Neanderthal Lecture – AV

We attended a lecture on Neanderthals at the College of Charleston last week.  The boys were a little less than their normal enthusiastic selves.  Their old teacher loved the “Coming of Man” lesson and would give it at least 6 times per year.  AV has heard it around 15 times.  But the lecture was to be in the new science building, and they were interested in seeing that.  We picked-up BR’s brother and headed down to the college only to get lost in the new building.  The room we needed wasn’t there.  The liaison with NASA (who knew we had one) helped us and gave antidotes about the moving in process (no trash cans – oops).

We were so impressed by the lecture hall.  Rolling chairs.  Cooooool.

Dr. David Frayer of the University of Kansas provided the lecture:  Who says Neanderthals are so different?

1909 drawing of Neanderthal based on la Chapelle-aux-saints find


  • The first Neanderthal (pronounced ne-an-der-tal – not with a th sound) was discovered in Germany near Duseldorf in 1856.  He was classified as a “poor idiot” or a lost Cossak. These derisive terms continued. “No one would want this creature to be in their family tree.”  One of the few people who did not dismiss the find or subsequent finds out of hand was Darwin.
  • The reconstructive drawing were biased and even reflected characteristics not know or known but not existent in the Neanderthal.
  • The Neanderthal is the paleontological “N” word.  Dr. Frayer asserts that in modern interpretations and culture (he showed examples) the Neanderthal is misrepresented based off of this early bias.  He does not believe this view is deserved.
  • sites excavated with Neanderthal implications

    Historical Record says that the Neanderthal is found in Europe and Western Asia 200,000 – 30,000 year ago, the people lived through glacial and interglacial periods and had a distinctive morphology.


  • Broad-scale Hunting
    • in Gibraltar the find has discovered in a seasonal camp
      • mollusks
      • seals
      • whales
      • birds
      • also cut marks on the bone (from obsidian blades)
    • in Blasco, Spain
      • rabbits
      • tortoises – they were flipped over and cooked in their shell – the shell becomes a bowl – known by burn marks
      • cut marks and tooth marks on the bone
    • in more northern climates
      • ungulates like deer and antelope show systematic exploitation just as by “modern” man
  • Broad-scale Gathering
    • in Kebara, Israel
      • acorns
      • pistachio
      • seeds
      • in more southern climates their diet relied heavily on plant food
  • Flint knapping in France - stages of production

    Raw Material Distribution

    • evidence in Neolithic sites in France show the trading of raw materials
    • the distribution of these raw materials is across large areas – several hundred miles from the primary local.
    • this is proved by processing areas found near the quarries which roughly prepare stone with much smaller fine processing areas (see next topic)
  • Site Utilization
    • in Tor Faraj, Jordan (as an example of others mentioned)
      • divisions into site specialization areas
        • butcher area
        • dump area
        • bedding area
        • lithic processing – fine working
        • lithic processing – rough working
    • in Abric Romani, Spain
      • numbers of fire pits
        • the spread of them around the cave suggests complexity
      • posts made of wood
  • Burial site in UK

    Burial Areas/Grounds

    • in La Ferrassic
      • positioned bodies buried with objects – stone tools on top of body
      • children and adults
      • some children buried together (twins?)
      • there is a positioned stone over one body – the stone has coupouls or “drilled” holes in a pattern
    • in other sites:
      • beads and painted objects
      • manganese dioxide in large quantities – probably used for tattooing
      • stone cups with pigment
      • ceremonial cuts into the scull above the brow but below the hair line – done post mortem
        • parallel marks with 2 gaps (30 or so cuts)
        • not defleshing marks made by cannibalism

The complexity of the society speaks to a formation of a “culture”.  Could you trade, have burial ceremonies, large scale gathering and hunting, trade, etc without symbolism, communication skills, and language (I think math as well – but it was not brought up.)

reconstructed skull

Communication Ability

  • there was a reconstruction completed from a CASTING of a Neanderthal skull which argues that the bone structures disallowed Neanderthals to say a, i, and u. The glottal passage was “kinked”.  However a group of grad students went and looked at the original skull and discovered that the skull had been constructed incorrectly (around 70 years ago).  When they placed the bone in its correct position.  The hyoid structure would support all “modern” sounds.
  • the FOXP2 gene is found in all creatures able to produce “human” speech – parrots, crows, and humans. Not in creatures like chimps.
    • When the FOXP2 gene is abnormal humans have no ability to put sounds into cohesive words.
    • Chimps’ alleles differer in 2 markers
    • Neanderthals are the same as Humans
  • the tooth connection
    • in Atapuerca, Spain
      • 500,000 year old teeth with striations (marks) that lean in the same direction
      • theory was presented that these marks were formed by:
      • holding hides or meat between the teeth
      • pulling taunt with the left hand.
      • the right hand was used to cut across the hide or meat
      • When this is done the rubbing of the hide or meat forms striation in the teeth which lean toward the direction of the cut
      • the theory was tested on grad students using forms placed in their mouths and the process attempted.  It showed the direction of the cut (whether left or right on the teeth).
    • This theory has been observed in multiple sites all over Europe and Western-Asia.
    • The significant is that to have hand dominance the brain must have lateralization
      • chimps do not have hand dominance
      • the left side of the brain is related to spoken language
      • 92.3% of the samples from Europe and Western-Asia show right hand dominance
    • Can’t be uncoordinated – it is hard to cut that way

Genetic Evidence in Croatia

  • Red hair
  • Light Skin

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Filed under "Coming of Man", AV, Geography and World Studies, Going outs (Field Trips), Montessori, Writing

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