The Neanderthals Social Behavior

One of the most important research findings for answering the question of how "human" the Neanderthals were can be seen in the fact that 40 percent of the burial finds are of children and adolescents. From this we may conclude that both young and old, who were cared for until death, were just as important in the social structure of our ice-age fellow humans as the fully productive adult Neanderthals were. How Neanderthals divided up the necessary tasks—whether the men hunted, the old taught, the women gathered and cooked, and the children played and minced food for the elderly—appears to be the realm of fantasy. Such reconstructions reflect the speculative abilities of today's Homo sapiens, who first developed as African neighbors of the Neanderthal and later, after their emigration to the Levant, shared their habitat with the Neanderthals for 40,000 to 60,000 years. It is impossible to say how much further interface existed between the life of the modern emigrant from Africa and the native European Neanderthals. There are too few finds that give evidence of close proximity as neighbors—in the sense of next-door neighbors living side by side. Still, a relatively peaceful coexistence can be presumed, along with the mutual use of available resources in a radius of several hundred kilometers.

There is no trace of warlike conflict, as has ofen been propagated in the past in the genre of so-called "paleofiction" or in popular magazines. How human or inhuman the Neanderthal might have been from the perspective of the modern, surviving human species, whether he could sing or not, whether he had a complex language or only made sounds, whether he shared food or was solitary in his struggle—we can only be certain that the Neanderthals were the last limb of a very successful human line in evolutionary history. They successfully confronted the environmental conditions of the ice age with strategies and techniques, and managed to get along in their environment. They were not, however, particularly creative in our modern sense. Europe's cultural and creative revolution began only toward the end of the Neanderthal era, about 45,000 years ago. The tool, which had remained fundamentally unchanged for many generations, began at that time to display significant changes from century to century. A dramatically rapid cultural development dawned in the last phase of the Paleolithic Era. For the first time, there is evidence in human history of art, which presupposes a greater manual dexterity, a high order of abstract thought, and aesthetic sensitivity. Works appeared like the 32,000-year-old lionman statue from Vogelherd Cave in Swabia, mammoth-ivory pendants in the shape of horses from the Russian Sungir, flutes and cave paintings. This was the same period during which the last Neanderthals were probably troubled about the preservation of their population. Beginning 27,000 years ago, our form of the human species lived alone on the planet earth—a state of affairs that had never before existed since the evolution of humankind, with one fascinating exception discovered recently in Southeast Asia (see Chapter 6).

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