Pigeon is the sort of food eaten at the table of kings, along with flavored ices and venison and wine. According to a recent article in Scientific Reports, it was also the sort of food eaten by Neanderthals. They didn’t just chomp on the little birds, either; these fairly sophisticated ancient Spaniards took the time to cut the flesh off the rock doves they consumed in large quantities.
Determining exactly when and where Neanderthals coexisted with modern Homo sapiens has proved a challenging study, since there were times of overlap in different parts of Europe at different times, and it’s not always easy to determine which group of humans used which tools. Once thought a great, hulking species halfway between ape and human, Neanderthals have proved themselves to be intelligent, spiritual, tidy individuals who still inhabit a small part of our gene pool.
Since their discovery in a German cave in 1856, scientists have been trying to determine exactly what kind of creatures the Neanderthals were. During the 20th Century, the public was taught to view the Neanderthal as hairy, jaw jutting, droopy lipped “cave” men — modern man’s less-than-bright evolutionary cousin. Never mind that these ancient fellows owned skulls with brain cases (and therefore brains) larger than our own. For more than a century, they were misportrayed as brutish missing links between apes and humans, but each new advance in research presents the Neanderthal as fully human after all. The sequencing of the Neanderthal genome has shown that Neanderthal blood still flows in the veins of many Europeans. Additional DNA studies have continued to show that Neanderthals mated with modern-looking humans. The fact that they cleverly caught rock doves on a regular basis, ate them with knives, and kept their houses organized and clean demonstrates they behaved with greater civility than most modern-day 15-year-olds.
Art and Recycling
In fact, Neanderthals have become so well known for their art and their recycling, they might as well be from Seattle. In 2010, scallops and cockleshells were found at the Cueva Antón (Anton’s Cave) in southeastern Spain. They had been painted with an orange pigment mixed from yellow and red minerals that would have had to have been collected from iron oxide sites more than three miles away. In another cave, Cueva de los Aviones, quartz and flint tools were found along with thorny oyster shells holding the residues of hematite(red), charcoal(black), dolomite(white or pinkish), and pyrite (gold), indicating they were being used as paint cups. A pair of pierced dog-cockleshells was also found in the cave, still bearing traces of a red hematite pigment.
In 2013, some 50 experts got together in Tel Aviv to discuss “The Origins of Recycling” among ancient humans like Homo erectus and the Neanderthals. For instance, these humans would reuse parts of broken tools to make new utensils.
“Why do we recycle plastic? To conserve energy and raw materials. In the same way, if you recycled flint you didn’t have to go all the way to the quarry to get more so you conserved your energy and saved on the material,” Avi Gopher, a Tel Aviv University archeologist, told the Associated Press.
From Man To Brute And Back Again
When the great pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902) considered the Neanderthal bones in 1872, he concluded that the Neanderthal first discovered in 1856 was a middle aged man with bad cases of arthritis and rickets (caused by a vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight). After Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published, the view that these bones came from an evolutionary ancestor distorted the objectivity of many scientists; the heavy-boned Neanderthal came to be thought of as a half-witted missing link between the apes and modern man.
Since the original discovery in the Neander Valley, more Neanderthal bones have been discovered across Europe and even in Israel. The Neanderthals possessed the hyoid bone, which is necessary for human speech. They have been found with tools and weapons, evidences of burial, and even a musical instrument. In fact, the finger holes of the Neanderthal flute found in Slovenia in 1995 were spaced according to the diatonic scale — do re me fa so la ti do — which argues that its maker possessed both intelligence and a musical ear. The Neanderthal image is having to be revamped as scientists realize that while they were thicker boned and more physically powerful than we are today, these humans were also intelligent, creative, and spiritually-aware people.
In fact, Dr. Jack Cuozzo, a New Jersey orthodontist who has studied several of the Neanderthal skulls firsthand, argues that based on his experience of studying bone growth, the Neanderthals may have simply lived extremely long lives — perhaps 400–500 years rather than our typical 80.
As progressively more is known about these ancient humans, paleoanthropologists have worked to discern exactly how Neanderthals did fit into human history. The team led by German researcher Svante Pääbo reconstructed the Neanderthal genome and compared it to a variety of living humans. The team found that most non-Africans have a tiny remnant of Neanderthal DNA in them.
A wide variety of human beings once lived on earth, from Homo erectus to the Denosovans to Neanderthal to the tiny three-foot-tall Homo floresiensis who lived and made tools to butcher animals on the island of Flores. They all died off with the exception of the ancestors of modern man.
Genesis describes a massive Flood that destroyed every breathing creature on the earth except for eight humans and an assortment of animals tucked away on the Ark. According to the Bible, then, all human beings alive on earth today descended from Noah’s three sons and their wives, and only the DNA in their blood was passed onto us. Since the DNA of all the other humans on earth was wiped out, it makes sense that a wider genetic variation of humans existed before the Flood, and those might have included these other humans, including the strange, big-boned people we call Neanderthals.
- The Earliest Pigeon Fanciers
— Scientific Reports
- Humans and Neanderthals Were Actually Neighbors
— Time Magazine
- Neanderthal: 99.5 Percent Human
— Live Science
- Heavy Brows, High Art?: Newly Unearthed Painted Shells Show Neandertals Were Homo sapiens’s Mental Equals
— Scientific American
- What Did the Well-Dressed Neanderthal Wear? Jewelry
— Time Magazine
- Recycling History: Even Cavemen Lived a Green Lifestyle
— Time Magazine
Tidy Cavemen: Neanderthals Organized Their Shelters
— Live Science