mardi 3 juin 2014

The rallying cry of Neanderthalians : pouah !

by Jean-Jacques COURTEY, Doctor in Economic Geography, Ph.D

We don't know so much about the Neanderthalians. When you study the genesis of their discovery in Germany in the XIXth. century, it's full of contradictions, with funny comments and high controversies, not totally resolved presently.
The famous writer H.G. Wells (1866 - 1946), even imagined that they were just starting to talk in his famous novel published in 1897 : "A Story of the Stone Age".
According to him, the word they were using commonly and almost uniquely was "Pouah" ! But, it is certainly exaggerated.
Funnily yet, this primal word is very much in use nowadays.
Does it mean that Neanderthalians didn't disappear, or are among us without realizing ?

All the question is about the indirect, or let's be bold, the direct link existing between Neanderthalians and present human beings.
Who knows for instance, if they were suited like us and shaved, nobody would be able to recognize them in a metro station of Paris ?
In Paris, a lot of people are often saying "Pouah" ! And yet, no scientific studies has been made to trace a root from Neanderthalians, when France, with Germany and several other countries in the world have got in common their recognized existence at a prehistoric time at least.

We remember when we were a pupil in high school at the door of Périgord, so rich for its prehistoric artefacts and discoveries, that we asked a question to our pretty teacher of biology.
She had a beautiful face, with nice brown hair, and she was explaining about the theory of evolution. She was showing to the whole class images of skulls, from monkey to Cro-Magnon ("homo sapiens sapiens"), just after having quoted Neanderthal with his stressed sloping forehead and his striking arches of the eyebrow. "Pouah !"

The astonishing thing was, she was underlining the brain development and capacities of our ancestors till nowadays. As we noted something illogical about Neanderthal (with a brain of 1550 cm3), when Cro-Magnon had only one of 1450 cm3 - and present human being still below -, we just asked our teacher if this meant that human being was finally regressing through ages ? Surprised by our spontaneous question, she became a little bit red when answering there was no involution of human beings, ...and added : "we'll talk about it in the course of next week !" But she never did !
We just meant : was the man of Neanderthal just "homo sapiens", when the less brainy Cro-Magnon was called "homo sapiens sapiens" ?

We know now the man of Neanderthal wasn't in fact a cossack of Crimea suffering of arthrosis, a horse rider then, who died in a cave of "Neander valley" ("Neanderthal" in old German), after having been badly injured in a battle against the retreating troops of Napoleon in 1814. It was yet the first result of the observations, about the bones and skull discovered near Düsseldorf in 1856. And the word "Neander" coincidentally (?) means "the new man".
But since, things have enormously Evolved. And we have now scientific methods, like the "protein clock", allowing a clear datation of skull and bones, to be able to assert they were undoubtedly the one of a prehistoric man.

The only hiatus can come from his habits to make various notches on bones : some minoritarian searchers are thinking about a real system of notches, without daring calling them a nascent writing.
As writing is taken as the main indicator for the start of history, Neanderthalians can bit a bit annoying. Couldn't they content themselves with dressing in skins of animals those ones, instead of giving headache to scientists ?
De facto, nobody is ready to change the whole chronology of human being history (not only prehistory then), just because of them !
Anyhow, Neanderthal would date back of 60 000 years at least, in the beginning of the glaciation of Würm.

As more fossiles and shells than Tools have been found near Neanderthalian remains all over the world (Germany of course, France, Belgium, Gibraltar, Italy, Crimea, Uzbekistan, ex-Yugoslavia, Israël, Irak, China, Java, and Zambia...), at the difference of Cro-Magnons, it is more difficult to have a complete idea about them. Then, the popular imaging modelled by a controversial science about Neanderthal could be wrong. And absolutely nothing is proving that Neanderthal was pulling by the hair his woman in the conjugal cave, while holding in the other hand a bludgeon ! Pouah!
Nobody can imagine him picking flowers, like buttercaps, for his promised. And yet, we know he was making a big use of flowers for different purposes.

What is funny about scientific assertions is that Neanderthal was able to master fire and sometimes to create art, but normally incapable of sewing (in spite of his "notches" method for clothes), making pottery or even a basket. Pouah !
It is also recognized he was able of compassion and help towards aging or injured people, and probably had a kind of animal cult, bear or wolf in Europe especially.
Strangely, present human beings are more connected to him than they think, as his successors. Officially, the man of Neanderthal is said to have been eliminated by harsh Cro-magnon men, if we follow the most admitted hypothesis. But nothing is proving all this is entirely true, and that there was neither interbreeding, nor more astonishingly any more direct survival since 24 000 BC.

The art of Skulls' modelling is now so sophisticated that another hypothesis is widely spreading to cancel the mistake which has been made about the real face of the man of Neanderthal : "pouah !"
The remodelled version is based on a different interpretation about the muscles of his neck, which was certainly straigther to allow him walking normally, by standing up, or even running after a mammoth or a woolen rhinoceros. We musn't forget that Neanderthal had a very strong constitution, with an inner ability to resist coldness, and an athletic shape.
Anyhow, we cannot ignore the remodelled version of Neanderthal face (we will call it "Neanderthal II), could be totally mistaken with the one of our ordinary fellows !

The man of Neanderthal is largely remaining an enigma. The successive and contradictive revisions of science about him, are showing how puzzling his existence and way of life were.
It shows also the limits of modern science, and its surprising difficulty to guess precisely what.  Neanderthal is said to have completely disappeared, and yet searchers are making constantly projections on certain present traditional tribes, like the ones of Papua-New Guinea, to imagine how he was by an exaggerated analogy.
All this is leading in a non-said way to the lack of imagination of the descendants of "homo sapiens sapiens" (Cro-Magnon). What would it mean, if modern man and woman, didn't understand what he truly was,  and remained so full of lasting prejudices, while ignoring their own "tribal" behaviour "?
Anyhow, the last humorous word will be the one of Neanderthal himself : pouah !

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