Speak Like a Caveman

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The Telegraph: “Cavemen ‘May Have Used Language’ Despite frequent caricatures of Neanderthals as mentally deficient, grunting cavemen, scientists continue to find evidence that Neanderthals were intelligent beings quite a lot like us.

Specifically, scientists studying Neanderthal (sometimes spelled as Neandertal) DNA have found a “language gene” that, till now, had been found only in modern humans. London’s Telegraph reports:

The scientist leading the Neanderthal genome project ... also emphasized that the common portrayal of Neanderthals is inaccurate.

Their controversial findings create the tantalising possibility that Neanderthals were in fact capable of speech much like humans and communicated with each other through their own language.
[. . .]
It is a stark contrast to the traditional image of Neanderthals as simple-minded cavemen [sic] and the latest research has shed new light on how Neanderthals evolved from our common ancestor more than 400,000 years ago.

The scientist leading the Neanderthal genome project, Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, also emphasized that the common portrayal of Neanderthals is inaccurate:

“It is not a compliment to be called a Neanderthal, but we are finding that the Neanderthal DNA looks much more like contemporary humans than chimps.”

Paabo added that “the human variations of this gene involved in the use of language are not found in apes. . . . By looking at their DNA, we have found that from the point of view of this gene, there is no reason they would not have spoken like we do.”

Some, like Oxford University scientist Simon Fisher, disagree with Paabo. “This is a really fascinating study, but analysis of a single gene is not enough to resolve the big question of whether or not Neanderthals were capable of speech.” We agree, of course; in fact, without conversing with a Neanderthal, we could never be sure what his speech capabilities were. That’s why Answers in Genesis relies on the Bible’s history, which declares that all men were descended from Adam (and Eve). This includes Neanderthals, and that’s why we are not surprised to witness the steady “rehabilitation,” as some have called it, of the Neanderthal image.

Oxford Brookes University professor Simon Underdown, meanwhile, is emphatic that the old image of troglodyte Neanderthals is finally on its way out: “This research should finally blow away the last vestiges of the Neanderthal as a dull-witted cave man.”

We’ll see if popular culture takes notice!


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