The Humanity of Neanderthals

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The Humanity of Neanderthals


Currently, there is no doubt that the modern humans evolved from the ancestors that came from Africa. However, other representatives of Homo genus inhabited the world for half a million years and disappeared almost without a trace. They were called “Neanderthals.” For many years, they have inhabited Europe, their homeland, which they left very reluctantly. Their appearance had primitive features, namely the lack of distinctive chin, large eyebrows, and massive jaws. However, their heads housed large brains (Jordan, 2013). This fact together with many other features has led many to believe they were the predecessors of the modern people. However, as aforementioned, the direct ancestors of humans came from Africa, which lies outside the habitat of Neanderthals. Moreover, the differences in genes are too significant to consider them the predecessors of Cro-Magnons (direct ancestors of modern humans) (DeSalle & Tattersall, 2008). Therefore, one cannot exclude the possibility that Neanderthals will no longer be perceived as humans despite belonging to Homo genus. The following paper focuses on proving the humanity of Neanderthals through the use of physiological and psychological features they have demonstrated as a proof.

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In order to define whether Neanderthals can be considered humans, it is necessary to determine the features inherent in humans and distinguish them from the animals. Moreover, it is required to clarify whether they are applicable to Neanderthals. The first distinctive feature of a human is speech. In humans, the larynx is located rather low in the throat that is lower than in primates. Additionally, they possess a hyoid bone. The uniqueness of the horseshoe-shaped bone lies in the fact that it is not attached to any other bone in the body, allowing a person to pronounce words distinctly (Sterelny, 2012). Judging from the measurements that were carried out on the fossilized skulls of Neanderthals, their oral cavity is arranged in a similar way and generally gives the same opportunities for pronouncing different sounds. This fact together with the developed left frontal lobe of the brain (the speech area of a modern human) makes it possible to state that Neanderthals were capable of speaking. However, their speech was not rich concerning phonetics due to the lack of chin projection (Jordan, 2013).

The next important feature of a human is bipedalism that is the ability to walk in the upright position on a constant basis with the hands being free for the use of tools (Sterelny, 2012). Neanderthals were bipedal, being no different from the modern humans in this aspect. Judging from the fact that they were capable of hunting very fast and agile animals, they were quite mobile, meaning that contrary to apes, they have mastered bipedalism completely. However, an increased muscle mass and shortened tibia of Neanderthals has resulted in reducing their stride length. Thus, energy costs of their movement were significantly higher than those of a modern man (Jordan, 2013).

The specific anatomy of hands and feet is also a distinctive feature of a human. There is a widespread (and wrong) idea that only humans have an opposed thumb. However, this feature is common to a majority of the primates. However, contrary to them, humans do not have an opposable thumb on their feet. Moreover, human hands are unique since people can connect their ring finger and little finger with their thumb as well as touch the base of the thumb with them. This is the reason people have a strong grip and exceptional knack for keeping tools and wield them skillfully (Sterelny, 2012). Neanderthals possessed similar features. In particular, their hands were well-developed, being slightly wider and shorter than those of the modern humans. Apparently, their fingers were not as agile (Paabo, 2014).

Undoubtedly, the distinctive feature of humans which makes them different from the majority of the representatives of the animal world is their extraordinary brain. It is not the largest one, even considering the percentage of body volume weighing about 1360 grams in the adult human. Nevertheless, it gives the opportunity to discuss, create, and make scientific discoveries that is a feat unique to humans (Sterelny, 2012). The brain of Neanderthals was different from the one of a modern man, probably having developed subcortical centers responsible for the subconscious control of emotions and memory. At the same time, it provided less conscious control of the same functions. Apparently, it is possible to state a significant inferiority of Neanderthals to the modern man concerning the opportunities for monitoring and coordination (Jordan, 2013). However, despite these limitations, Neanderthals were the first to settle in the cold, pre-glacial territory of Northern Eurasia (Stefoff, 2010). Moreover, they have possessed the ability to organize their private space. In particular, their dwellings (in most cases, caves) were often divided into the three zones. The first of them housed the kitchen and contained the fossils of animals that were used as food. In addition, there were the traces of ocher used for tanning hides as an adhesive and as an antiseptic. In the second zone, the most spacious one, there was a hearth, a place of assembly of the entire family, as well as their bed. The third zone was used to make stone tools; it was well-lit by the natural light, and the risk of someone interfering with work was minimal (Conard & Richter, 2011). Considering that Neanderthals did not possess the natural means of protection from cold such as thick fur or a developed layer of subcutaneous fat but still managed to settle the northern territories, it is possible to state that their brain has provided them with a significant adaptability, namely dwelling creation (Paabo, 2014). It has allowed providing relatively comfortable living conditions. At the same time, the desire for comfort (not at the level of instincts) is a feature of humans.

With regard to the harsh climatic conditions, it is possible to present another human-specific feature that is clothing. People can be called naked apes, but most of them wear clothes. This fact makes them unique (Sterelny, 2012). Neanderthals were also known to wear primitive clothes, such as animal hides, especially in the aforementioned cold areas. However, it is still uncertain whether the hides were sewn together as Neanderthals could have simply wrapped them around their bodies (Conard & Richter, 2011). Nevertheless, even such clothing can be considered an evidence of a complex behavior that distinguishes humans from animals.

Naturally, the life of the representatives of Homo genus in harsh conditions is almost unimaginable without fire. By taming it, people were capable of bringing the night to day, navigate in the darkness, and ward off predators. The heat of fire has allowed people to keep warm in cold weather and, therefore, gave them an opportunity to master the colder areas. Additionally, it was used to cook food, which made a serious impact on human evolution. The primary reason for that is the fact that the cooked food is easier to consume, which is likely to have contributed to a decrease in the size of the teeth and digestive tract (Sterelny, 2012). Concerning Neanderthals, there is evidence of them using fire (the remains of hearths) to warm themselves and cook food. Moreover, they used it for the creation of tools. In particular, Neanderthals were capable of manufacturing adhesive resin to construct stone and wooden tools. In particular, they burned birch bark without oxygen by placing it in the hole, incinerating, and sealing with a stone (Sterelny, 2012).

Thus, considering the aforementioned features possessed by Neanderthals, it is possible to state that they, as well as the Cro-Magnons, were humans since they were radically different from animals. In the biological sense, they were inferior to Cro-Magnons (less agile hands, higher energy consumption, phonetically poor speech, etc.). However, it is possible to provide the last and most significant evidence that proves their humanity, namely the fact that Neanderthals were capable of creating own culture called “Mousterian.” It primarily consists of findings such as double-edged hand axes honed with better quality than the similar tools of Homo erectus. In addition, it includes a variety of flakes used for butchering though not in such a wide range as in case of Cro-Magnons that created dozens of stone and bone tools. Neanderthals also had wooden spears with stone tips for melee (Conard & Richter, 2011). They had a primitive religion. They buried their dead in shallow graves, usually in a fetal position. Next to the bodies, there were flowers, eggs, and meat, which may indicate a belief in life after death and the presence of religious and magical practices. The religious practice of European Neanderthals was also represented by the cult of bear skulls, which suggests the existence of hunting magic rites. They wore primitive decorations made of the teeth of animals. However, scientists believe that the custom of decorating themselves could have been learned from Cro-Magnons (Conard & Richter, 2011). Nevertheless, such behavior is not typical for the representatives of the animal world, being a distinctive feature of human beings.

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By summarizing all the provided facts, it is possible to state that Neanderthals indeed were humans. Their physiology and complex behavior make them completely different from primates or other Hominids such as Australopithecus. However, they were not the ancestors of the modern humans. This means that they have either been wiped out or assimilated by the superior species, such as Cro-Magnons, and the history of their extinction is yet to be uncovered. Thus, it is possible to suggest that Neanderthals are a remarkable phenomenon in the history of human origin. They can be perceived as an alternative mankind, the people that were capable of living in harsh conditions and, for the most time, developed independently from the other representatives of Homo genus.