This week’s readings on the emergence of modern humans was fascinating. It’s interesting to think of us as the result of a mixture of different species that spread across Africa, Europe, Eurasia, and Asia. Each were similar, obviously to the point where they could mate, but they also had a variety of traits they helped them survive in their separate environments. At this point communication must have been building to the point of language. There is DNA evidence that Neanderthals had the ability to speak. Neanderthals and the prehomo-sapiens had a culture and had a capacity for empathy. They took care of members of their group until old age. As these early humans mixed there must have been some sort of cross species interaction, some attempt to talk to one another and teach each other to communicate. Often people today have trouble extending understanding to other humans because of race or nationality and our ancestors many thousands of years ago were reaching out to another species.
Our readings about Neanderthals was especially interesting. I did not know they were so much like us. Their capacity for language and speech, their complex use of tools, the presence of art in their life, and of empathy and caring for the old and weak paints a picture of a creature much more relatable and familiar than any other primate relative we’ve studied. Though it’s generally accepted now that Neanderthals are one of our ancestors, I seem to remember being taught that Neanderthals were an evolutionary dead end, a relative that happened to be similar, but with no direct relation. I even heard that early humans might have warred with the Neanderthals and lead to their extinction. I much prefer our current understanding to the older theories. To think that a species as intelligent and cultured as the Neanderthals could have been simply wiped off the earth is actually terrifying, doubly so that our ancestors could have been responsible for the eradication of a species so close to itself. Who knows how much we owe to the Neanderthals. What would have been lost if there wasn’t that interaction and mingling? How much our culture is the result of the the Neanderthals? I wonder if our ancestors even recognized each other as separate species. There are arguments that homo erectus and homo ergastor are not separate species. All of of our ancestors around this period displayed a great amount of diversity. Did each species see each others differently or the same?
The Neanderthal’s ability to make art is the most surprising to me. As impressive as tools and speech are, art seems like a true step above and beyond. It reaches through time and communicates to us directly, literally. Neanderthal art is still being found. What was the purpose of these drawings? Were they trying communicate to each other or serve as reminders to themselves? Or was their art for their own amusement? Art for art sake is either very innocent or surprising complex. To cultivate knowledge not directly related to survival or gain is a difficult concept that I recognize as intelligent query human.