Interview with a Neandertal: what I always wanted to ask our distant cousins about love and death and sorrow and dinner.

Author:Long, Priscilla
Position::Essay
 
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  1. You NEANDERTALS became extinct 28,000 years ago. Still, your time on Earth lasted several to many millenniums longer than our time has lasted so far. If you could speak to us now, could you teach us anything about survival?

  2. We evolved in Africa about 160,000 years ago. About 140,000 years ago, some catastrophic event wiped out most of the founding population of Homo sapiens. This calamity, whatever it was, decimated a population of 12,800 individuals down to a remnant of 600. We today--all of us--descend from those 600 survivors. Now, as for you Neandertals, we are constantly inquiring as to how (not whether) we were cognitively superior to you, given that we survived and you didn't. But is that really different from asking how our 600 surviving ancestors were cognitively superior to their kin who perished so long ago? What is it about that question?

  3. You Homo neanderthalensis and we Homo sapiens had a common ancestor, a humbler hominid, that spread a long way out of Africa a long time ago. This predecessor hominid lived maybe 440000 years ago. You Neandertals evolved out of those folks in Europe at some poorly understood time, say about 300.000 years ago. Our people evolved out of the African version of those same folks. Gradually you spread south and some of you ended up in the Near East. Gradually we spread north and some of us also ended up in the Near East. And there we met, perhaps 40,000 years ago. We occupied the same region for about 10,000 years before you vanished. Did one of yours ever get it on with one of ours?

  4. Strike that question. That was last year's question. In May 2010 researchers announced that: Yes! some of yours did get it on with some of ours. This Homo Neanderthalensis/Homo sapiens hoochie-coochie occurred after some of us arrived in the Near East and before we moved off in different directions. We all, except for pure Africans whose ancestors remained in Africa, carry a few of your genes. Okay then. Was it love or was it rape? Or was it some of each? Did we have any Romeo and Juliet-type situations?

    [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

  5. So, did we find each other attractive? Repulsive? Some of each? You had stockier bodies, thicker bones, bigger muscles, a bigger brain. You had a massive eyebrow ridge, that supraorbital ridge. You had positively huge noses with wide nostrils. Did you laugh about us and call us the noseless know-it-alls? Did we laugh about you and call you the chinless bone-chewers of the North?

  6. Once...

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