an imaginative look a palaeolithic life

Neanderthal or human?

If there’s one thing that really annoys me, it’s when people talk about “neanderthals and humans” when what they really mean is “neanderthals and homo sapiens” or “neanderthals and modern humans”, because neanderthals are human, and saying “neanderthals and humans” as though the two groups were mutually exclusive, is a bit like saying “I need to buy some tables and furniture for my new house” like tables are not a kind of furniture.

Firstly there’s the fact that from a scientific point of view, anything in the genus Homo counts as human.  Then there’s the fact that if you do choose to consider only Homo sapiens to qualify as human you will have basically reduced the definition of human to having a vertical forehead, dome shaped cranium, reduced brow ridge and a pointy chin.  I mean really…?  That’s what human means to you?  Not anything to do with having a large brain brain or being able to make and use technology and transmit cultural knowledge from one generation to the next… ?

If neanderthals were alive today, most of what is said about them nowadays would be considered horribly racist.  And if they were alive and you met one (especially one who’d been raised in modern culture and spoke the same language as you) you wouldn’t begin to suggest that they weren’t human (unless you were an utterly dimwitted racist clod), so I don’t get why it’s acceptable to deny the humanity of our cousin species, just because they went extinct 30,000 years ago and can’t complain about it?

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4 responses

  1. Varda

    I think we’d be a lot more understanding of our place in the animal kingdom if we had more close cousins around.

    May 1, 2013 at 18:20

  2. I’ve often thought that, barring DNA studies to define them as actual separate species, a lot of these Homo whateverus fossil skulls and bones are probably not in fact their own species, but just variants of the same species. There seems to be this belief that there was absolutely NO variation within ancient species, despite what we see around us today (notably in humans and especially dogs). In fact I’ve wondered how many of the one-of-a-kind fossils were in fact freaks (caused by a spasm of mutations) rather than representative of some distinct species.

    January 16, 2015 at 04:54

    • You’d be really interested in the Dmanisi hominins – the earliest human fossils found outside of Africa. What’s significant is that there are several individuals at the one site, and they show quite a lot of variation. This has led to the suggestion that all early Homo (i.e. H. ergaster/early H. erectus, H. habilis and H. rudolphensis) are all one species, and that early humans evolved from a single lineage.

      January 17, 2015 at 22:48

      • Ah, see? I’m not the only one to have this thought. I suppose the difficulty lies in getting DNA samples from the available specimens. (Any better luck from the H.whateverus coprolites, if any?)

        After all, if we only went by morphology, Chihuahuas and Great Danes would be regarded as distinct species!

        January 17, 2015 at 23:10

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