Since their discovery in a German cave in 1856, scientists have been trying to determine exactly what kind of creature the Neanderthals were. During the 20th century, the public was taught to view the Neanderthal as a great hulking fellow with a hairy, jutting jaw and drooping lips - the "cave" man, 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 some of our veins. Additional DNA studies have continued to show that Neanderthals mated with modern-looking humans, and now a new set of Neanderthal cave paintings have been found in southern Spain demonstrating more of the reality of Neanderthal humanity.
A team at the University of Cordoba, Spain has been studying ancient paintings of seals found on a stalactite in the Caves of Nerja outside of Málaga on Spain’s southern coast. They appear to be the oldest cave paintings yet discovered, radiocarbon dated to about 43,000 years, and they are being credited to Neanderthals that lived in the area. The oldest previous cave paintings, France’s famous Chauvet Cave images of horses, cattle, reindeer and ice age animals, were dated to about 30,000 years ago.
Paul Pettitt at the University of Sheffield, UK has called the discovery, "potentially fascinating", although he cautions about the difficulties of properly dating cave art. "Even some sites we think we understand very well such as the Grotte Chauvet in France are very problematic in terms of how old they are," says Pettitt.
José Luis Sanchidrián at the University of Cordoba recognizes the tenuous nature of dating cave art, but still argues that Neanderthals fit the situation better than modern homo sapiens. The art is unlike other human Paleolithic art. He notes that Neanderthals ate seals, and they lived longer in the area than they did in the rest of Europe.
There is still the question of how the stalactite changed so little in all those thousands of years; the paintings were never covered over.
This is not the first bit of art credited to Neanderthals, however. 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 were also found in the cave, still bearing traces of a red hematite pigment.
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. Neanderthals are also related to another set of ancient humans, the Denisovans, that lived in Siberia. The only living people still related to the Denisovans are the aborigines of Australasia.
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 except for 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, 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, we should not be surprised to find a wider genetic variation of humans were once in existence, including the strange, big-boned people we call Neanderthals.
The King of Creation:
Ironically, the name Neander is a classical version of Neumann, which means "new man." Even more ironic is the way the "New Man" Valley received its name. In the mid 1600s, a young man named Joachin Neander settled in Dusseldorf, Germany as rector of the Latin school. While suspended from teaching during some disagreements with the Reformed church, he spent a great deal of time walking in the nearby river valley and writing hymns. Apparently, he spent so much time in that pleasant valley near Dusseldorf, it was later named for him. His hymns were published and some, like the following verse, are sung today.
Praise ye the Lord the Almighty, the King of Creation
Oh my soul praise him for he is thy health and salvation
All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near
Join me in glad adoration.
As scientists work to place the Neanderthals in their appropriate place in human history, the very name given these ancient humans brings to mind that other Neander Valley man who praised God as the Almighty – and perhaps the Neanderthal remains, even now, are bringing glory to the same King of Creation.
Related Links: Human Origins: Apes Or Adam? (May 10, 2011) - Koinonia House eNews