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Originally published in Creation 25, no 4 (September 2003): 10-14.
Despite all the prejudice against including the Neandertals into Homo sapiens, even many evolutionists have become impressed with the evidence for Neandertal’s humanity.
Neandertal Man was the name given to bones found in 1856 in Germany’s Neander Valley (“tal”, or “thal” in old German spelling). The name Neander was a pseudonym of the 17th-century minister Joachim Neumann, the Greek translation of his name (“new man”). A major PBS-TV series on evolution1 depicted Neandertal Man as only half human and not very intelligent, one who lived a very inferior life compared to the alleged first humans, the Cro-Magnon people. Some scientists today believe he was “lacking the language skills, foresight, creativity, and other cognitive abilities of modern humans”.2 Neandertal Man is considered to be either a link leading to modern man or a dead end in human evolution from the supposed ape-like ancestor.
Biblical creationists, on the other hand, believe that there were no “subhumans” at any time. Neandertal fossils are all post-Flood, so these bones are believed to represent just one more group of people which split off from other groups following the Babel dispersion.
The evolutionary assumptions concerning Neandertal Man began early this century. The first Neandertal was reconstructed as a “missing link” by famous paleontologist Marcellin Boule (1861–1942).3 He was called Homo neanderthalensis, implying a primitive evolutionary link to modern man, Homo sapiens. Forty-four years later, a reanalysis of Boule’s work showed his extreme evolutionary bias in the reconstruction of Neandertal Man. After the reanalysis, some scientists stated that if you dressed him up, gave him a shave and bath, and sent him into society, he would attract no more attention than some of the subway’s other denizens (see box below). Neandertal Man was then reclassified as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, just a particular type of modern man.
From their skeletons, we know that the average Neandertal person had bony differences from the average person alive today, including a bigger braincase. So what did they look like?
Bones cannot tell you about things like hairiness, nor the shape of the fleshy parts, like nose or ears. But computerized forensic science has come a long way in making educated “guesses” at a person’s appearance from the shape of a skull. As reported in January 1996 National Geographic, researchers at the University of Illinois used computer morphing techniques to fit pictures of living people onto Neandertal skulls.
Unlike the artistic reconstructions of earlier times, this time nothing was imaginatively added based on evolutionary assumptions of “primitivity”. The results indicate that the bones of the skull would not preclude Neandertals from looking like people you would not greatly comment on (apart from hair and dress style) if they moved in next door to you today.
It is interesting that, just as with Piltdown Man, Neandertal’s uplifted status was hailed as a “great moment in science” in which errors are eventually corrected. But the clues to Neandertal Man’s human affinity were obvious at the time of Boule’s reconstruction, just as it should have been obvious that Piltdown Man was a fraud.
The great pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902) claimed that the Neandertal specimen he examined had rickets and arthritis, which may have caused some of the skeletal features leading to the wrong reconstruction, but his opinion was overlooked.4 It took 44 years for the highly misleading nature of the reconstructions to be revealed, indicative of the shared bias of the evolutionary community.
Even after the Neandertal reconstruction at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago was shown to be false and highly misleading, it took another 20 years for this renowned institution to correct its display!
Although the image of Neandertal Man improved by the 1950s and 1960s, there still is considerable controversy within evolutionary circles over his status,5 with many still preferring the “missing link” concept. Although his brain size is a little larger than modern man’s, Neandertal’s brain is said to be of “lesser quality.” Some believe he had incredible physical strength and would fight large animals at close quarters, while others claim he was a scavenger or even a vegetarian. Evolutionists do not know where Neandertal Man came from or where he went. One faction of evolutionists believes modern men, Cro-Magnons, killed the Neandertals, while others believe Neandertal interbred with Cro-Magnon Man, eventually becoming modern man. Neandertal Man disappeared about 30,000 years ago in the evolutionary timescale—a more or less “absolute” date, despite evidence of younger Neandertals.6
Another difficulty for evolutionists is evidence that Neandertal Man lived at the same time as modern man and “archaic Homo sapiens”, sometimes in the same area. This creates big problems for those professing Christians who, like Hugh Ross, generally accept secular dating methods. Since they cannot date Adam back too far without stretching the genealogies beyond recognition, any human-type skeletons “dated” earlier than a few tens of thousands of years ago have to be written off as pre-Adamic “soulless” quasihumans. Biblical creationists believe Neandertal Man was just a unique variant of modern man who lived in Europe and adjacent Asia and North Africa after the Babel dispersion in the Ice Age (the aftermath of the Flood7).
Despite the PBS series on evolution, the status of Neandertal Man has been improving among evolutionists during the past 10 years. The series” failure to mention any of the recent discoveries appears to be typical of its whole propagandistic thrust. The discovery of a human hyoid bone (related to the larynx or voice box) prompted many evolutionists to state that Neandertal Man had speech and language ability equivalent to modern man.8
Trinkaus and Shipman9 say:
“Although no one had explicitly predicted what a Neandertal hyoid would look like, few were really surprised when it turned out to be a slightly enlarged version of a human hyoid and nothing like an ape hyoid … . Many anthropologists came to believe that Neandertals could have spoken any modern human language, whatever their accent may have been.”
Although the Neandertal hyoid bone was indistinguishable from those of modern humans, some still downplay its significance to speech ability. However, a later report, based on further anatomical evidence, concludes that language has been around for 400,000 years of evolutionary time, including the entire Neandertal period.10
The PBS series pointed out that Neandertal burials left little evidence of ritual as compared to those by later humans. Besides leaving me suspicious that their case was concocted, any difference may not mean much, since there are other ways to explain the scarcity of implements or other signs of ritual with Neandertal skeletons. Lately, more evidence of ritual has been showing up. A Neandertal baby was found buried in Israel with a red deer jawbone next to its hip, indicating that Neandertal Man at least had the capability for symbolic behavior.11 A Neandertal toddler was unearthed in Syria at the bottom of a pit 1.5 m (5 ft) deep, with a flint tool resting at about the spot where the infant’s heart had once beaten. This discovery is considered “the best evidence yet of Neandertal burial practices”.12 Furthermore, pierced animal teeth, probably worn as pendants, and ivory rings were discovered with a Neandertal fossil in a French cave in 1996.13,14 Moreover, it is now known that Neandertals made their own relatively sophisticated ornaments and tools.2 This suggests “a high degree of acculturation”.15
New information contradicts the idea that Neandertals were markedly inferior.At one time archaeologists did not believe Neandertals used spears, but this idea has been given the shaft by the finding of aerodynamic wooden spears used by the supposed ancestors of Neandertals.16 Furthermore, it has been discovered that Neandertals crafted a variety of stone tools and deadly, stone-tipped spears, showing an aptitude often attributed only to modern humans.17,18,19 Some scientists had claimed that Neandertal Man was only capable of scavenging carcasses, but a new analysis of break and cut marks on animal bones in caves indicates he butchered the animals, which is consistent with hunting.20 John Shea, who featured in the PBS series, states that this new information contradicts the idea that Neandertals were markedly inferior.21
A very recent report now finds that Neandertals used stone implements in more flexible ways than previously thought, which gave them access to a more varied diet of meat and plants.22,23 Based on microscopic evidence of use-wear and residues left on the stone tools in the Crimea,24 the report suggests that those who used the tools, likely Neandertals, exploited a variety of woody and starchy plants and even hunted birds. Residues of bird feathers were found on some of the tools.
It has recently been concluded that Neandertals lived side-by-side with modern humans in the Middle East for 100,000 years of evolutionary time and made virtually identical stone tools.25 Hybrids of Neandertals and humans are known from a number of areas,26 including a recent find of a child in Portugal.27 It is not difficult to conclude that Neandertal Man was totally human, and that modern humans and Neandertals likely amalgamated in Europe.
One report claimed that Neandertal Man’s DNA was quite different from modern humans, supposedly justifying the classification of them into a different species than modern man. But its author, the famed Svante Pääbo, claims that his paper has been misinterpreted.28 And mitochondrial DNA retrieved from an Australian Homo sapiens, claimed to be 62,000 years old, also differs greatly from that of modern humans.29 The team that made the DNA discovery believes this new result will usher Neandertal Man back into the human fold. This result also suggests that DNA studies are not very good for determining supposed evolutionary closeness.
It has been suggested that Neandertal Man fashioned a bone flute, an obvious human accomplishment. This deduction is strongly disputed, claiming that the holes in a hollowed-out bear bone were punctured and gnawed by the teeth of an animal, possibly a wolf.30 However, the two complete and two partial holes in the picture shown are linear and very round, making the carnivore theory suspect (available only in the magazine—see p. 11). Besides, about 30 partial bone flutes have been found in Europe late in the Neandertal period and younger.31
Those scientists that dispute Neandertal’s human affinity seem to forget that he lived during the Ice Age and was able to survive the cold and harsh weather.32 Neandertal Man had to have a human level of sophistication to survive.33,34
A new article published in the journal Nature now claims that Neandertals, or possibly modern humans, lived in northern Russia during the Ice Age.35 It had been widely believed that no humans lived in this region until 14,000 years ago in evolutionary time. Based on a mammoth tusk bearing cut marks, likely made from stone tools, the earliest date of man living in this cold territory during the Ice Age was pushed back to 40,000 years. The significance of this is that “adaptation to northern climes requires high levels of technological and social organization”,36 strongly suggesting that Neandertal Man, if he was the tool user, was fully human.
Many of these reports of Neandertal’s total humanity are disputed by some scientists, seemingly motivated by a blind evolutionary bias. In one scene from the similarly biased PBS series, John Shea throws a Neandertal spear with a heavy head 23 or 24 m (80 ft), while he throws a later human spear 42 m (140 ft). This demonstration implied that Neandertals were inferior to modern people. But earlier in the Neandertal episode it was concluded that Neandertals were very strong: the body builders of the Paleolithic. It therefore stands to reason that Neandertal Man could throw his spear significantly farther than 24 m, and that the heavy, sharp stone tip would have been very effective in hunting. The spear that was thrown 42 m had a light antler head and was thrown with the aid of a spear thrower.
Despite all the prejudice against including the Neandertals into Homo sapiens, even many evolutionists have become impressed with the evidence for Neandertal’s humanity, as research casts a “more complimentary light on the older cousins. This emerging view depicts Neandertals as having a capacity for creative, flexible behavior somewhat like that of modern people”.37 Thus, the evidence increasingly supports the biblical position.