Neanderthalensis

The art of reconstructing our ancient relatives, the Neandertals (commonly, neanderthals) from fossils has gotten pretty amazing. Neanderthals (roughly 350,000 to 35,000 years ago) did not lead to us however, we came from another group once called the Cro-Magnons (now called Early Modern Humans). Eventually the Neanderthals became extinct. But before that happened there is evidence of some interbreeding between the two groups. Some of us still, in fact, possess Neanderthal genes.

Here is a skeletal comparison:

As you can see, there are obvious differences. One of the more striking is that the ribs of Neanderthals were connected to their sternum. Others were their heavy brow-ridge, large nose and shorter arms. Their bones were thicker and stronger than those of modern humans. Yet they must have lived rugged, violent lives for they are often found with broken bones that then healed.

Anyway, just some interesting factoids as I am not an anthropologist. What intrigues me though, and the reason for this post, is just my imagining what life must have been like for these people – to live in a world so vastly different from that of today. A world full of hazards, true, but also full of beauty, and adventure.

A quote from Opalescence. Here Karstens is talking to Tom the day before he is set to launch back into the distant prehistoric past:

“Some people believe in the story of the Garden of Eden. That Adam sinned and was kicked out because of that. But that’s wrong. We were never forced from the garden. No, we left voluntarily. You see, somewhere in our remote past, we made a choice, an exchange. That world of uncertainties, primitive fears – and unimaginable beauty, we traded for lives of security and comfort. That tree of lore…. But with the gain in knowledge, we sacrificed something deep in our souls, a vital part of ourselves. It’s something we’ve tried, futilely, ever since to regain. I’d trade it all back in a heartbeat.”

I’m not suggesting that the Pleistocene would have been a piece of cake. Not at all (btw, Opalescence takes place 15,000,000 years ago in the Miocene; long before people. We now live in the Anthropocene). Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons had each other to contend with. There were no supermarkets to buy whatever one wanted. People had to feed and clothe themselves. Still, it was a big, wild world, with lots of space and the freedom to move if needed or desired. Another quote from O. A few hours after he arrives in that beautiful Miocene world.

The night was a long one for Tom… he shivered, not due to cold, for, if anything, it was warm. But from nerves. All the night sounds of the forest. The various calls, both deeply guttural and high. Roaring, bellowing, yipping and mewling. The sound of crashing through brush. He dared not look out. It hit him now how foreign this world was. Yes, it was the same earth, but so very different. All the normal sounds he knew, had grown up with — cold, hard, mechanical noises, of grinding engines and sharp, abrupt staccatos — were gone. Gone forever. In its place were these sounds, the sounds of nature. Of unpredictability and chance.

And the next morning:

Tom stepped outside, naked, to relieve himself. Felt the cool, moist grass beneath his feet, between his toes, the coolness of the air upon his skin. It felt wonderful. He listened, half expecting the usual sounds of the city. The ever-present drone and scream of automobiles and airplanes, the honking of horns, of someone hurling a curse at someone else, the alarm of gunshot and the cries that followed, the jarring notes of siren and jackhammer, the painful shriek of metal on metal, the many clangs and bangs. But there was none of that. It was unsettling; told him just how alone he really was. He walked to the stream, and, forgetting his filter, bent down and drank. The water was cold and delicious, its purity filling him, healing his wounds.”

Just for a moment now, take a look at these people, look into their eyes and imagine yourself back then. Remember that these were persons with names and lives. What stories would they have to tell? How would your life have been different?

by Elizabeth Daynes

by Elizabeth Daynes

by Elizabeth Daynes

by Elizabeth Daynes

from the Neanderthal Museum, Germany

from the Neanderthal Museum, Germany

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What do you think, was the trade-off the right one?

Says Ray Jardine, in his book, Trail Life: 25,000 Miles of Trails Tested Know-How (Part 8, Long Distance Hiking. Dreams Into Goals) in describing the sense of loss and longing many today feel to “escape the endless treadmill” etc. “and instead to experience something … more fulfilling.

This longing is our genetic programming speaking to us”.

Note: I have attempted to discover the creators of these reconstructions for proper attribution. In two I’ve failed.

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