Neanderthals, Lecture 9

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  • 1. The Neanderthals Emergence of a Distinct Hominim Species in Europe and the Middle East
  • 2. The Earliest Neanderthals ● Much less study has been accorded to the emergence of Neanderthals than to their extinction ● We are therefore uncertain about the earliest dating of their differentiation from Homo heidelbergensis, although it is commonly believed that this was a protracted process ● The earliest specimens representing Neanderthal have been dated to roughly 150,000 - 200,000 BP, but there are some authorities that place their emergence as a separate species as late as 120,000 BP ● Much of the uncertainty regarding the emergence of the species is attributable to the criteria selected to determine whether a specimen represents Homo heidelbergensis remains or Neanderthal remains ● This controversy is ultimately an expression of the difficulty is discriminating the subtle differences between the terminal specimens of the former species and the incipient specimens from the latter
  • 3. Spatial Distribution ● At the outset, it must be recalled that Neanderthal were restricted in their distribution to Europe and the Middle East ● The easternmost extent of the species reached into Uzbekistan, whereas there is no evidence for Neanderthal beyond the Sinai Desert—thus, Africa affords no remains of this species ● This is significant for two reasons: the first is that it suggests that perhaps there was a climatic cause for the adaptations which ultimately led to the appearance of Neanderthal as a separate species, one that was not operative in Africa and the Far East The Neanderthal were restricted in their ● The second reason is that it perhaps occurrence to Europe and the western reflects the existence of an endogenous margins of Eurasia. No evidence for the breeding network, where there was presence of this species has been rarely contact with hominims outwith found in Africa nor in the Far East Eurasia
  • 4. Anatomical Characteristics ● Neanderthal were between 164 – 168 cm in height for male adults, and 152 – 156 cm for adult females ● Little sexual dimorphism is therefore evident in this species; they are moreover only between 12 – 14 cm shorter than the average anatomically modern human in North America and Europe ● A clearly distinguishing characteristic is the robustness of the skeleton as compared to anatomically modern humans ● This is especially evident in the cranium, but is also manifest in the density of the bones ● The species was therefore much more powerful than anatomically modern humans
  • 5. The Genetic Studies Establishing Genetic Distance Between Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens sapiens
  • 6. Contribution of Genetic Studies ● The discussion of the relationship between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans has been revolutionised by the application of genetic studies, in particular the study of mtDNA sequences and their comparison amongst species ● This work has not only repudiated the possibility of Neanderthals contributing directly to the genetic material of anatomically modern humans, but it has furthermore provided a broad chronological framework for species differentiation through a study of the mutations occurring in the sequences ● Nevertheless, we are faced with some problems of interpretation that are inherent in the study of ancient genetic material—namely, dating the mutations and making inferences concerning phylogenetic relationships
  • 7. Genetic Distance ● The phylogenetic analysis shows that the line leading to the Neanderthal mtDNA diverged before the most recent common ancestor of the modern human mtDNA gene pool existed ● The results of the genetic studies indicate that the mtDNA gene pools of these two hominid forms had diverged for a substantial time before they came into contact ● To put the extent of genetic differentiation that had resulted into a comparative frame of reference, an example might be the differentiation found today among chimpanzees and bonobos and contrasting them with the genetic evidence for Neanderthals vis-à-vis anatomically modern humans that has emerged from the recent studies
  • 8. Humans, Neanderthals and Chimpanzees ● The number of differences between the Neanderthal and modern humans is 35.5 6 2.3, about half that between chimpanzees and bonobos (75.7 6 4.6) ● Unfortunately, HVRII sequences are not available for different subspecies of chimpanzees ● However, if the analysis is confined to 312 bp of HVRI, the average difference between modern humans and the Neanderthal is 25.6 6 2.2, whereas that among 19 bonobos is 17.7 6 8.5, among 10 central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) is 14.6 6 8.1, among 25 western chimpanzee and eastern chimpanzees, respectively ● Thus, the average observed difference between the Neanderthal mtDNA and the mtDNA of modern humans exceeds that occurring within chimpanzee subspecies and within bonobos
  • 9. Timing the Differentiation ● The genetic evidence has also provided a range of dates for the differentiation of Homo erectus (or Homo heidelbergensis) into a line leading to Neanderthal and one leading to anatomically modern humans ● It has been suggested that the divergence occurred sometime around 311,000 BP (182,000 BP to 466,000 BP at a 95% expression of confidence) or 435,000 BP (308,000 BP to 598,000 BP at a 95% expression of confidence) depending on which assumptions are made concerning which elements of the generic sequence ● These ranges conform well with the palaeoanthropological studies which suggest that 'Neanderthal-like features' began to emerge between 500,000 BP to 250,000 BP in Europe and the Middle East
  • 10. The Early Sites
  • 11. Krapina, Croatia ● One of the earliest Neanderthal sites upon which all scholars can agree on the fossil specimens representing this species is Krapina in Croatia ● Its value for elucidating the cultural traditions of the inhabitants is unfortunately diminished by the site being investigated in 1899 when excavation techniques were poorly developed ● The main importance of the site, apart from its age, was the copious quantity of fragmented and splintered fossil remains which suggested that the inhabitants practised cannibalism ● It is also significant for the quantity of material in itself: 884 bones were recovered, which represent 75 individuals ● Most died between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four years old
  • 12. Cannibalism ● The site at Krapina has been dated to 130,000 BP, although some argue that the later horizons could be as recent as 70,000 BP ● Both are perfectly consistent, inasmuch that they reflect a stratigraphic succession—the quantity of remains would certainly suggest that the cave was used for a very long time ● The remains at Krapina are interesting insofar that the long bones were split along their long axes, which is typical for the extraction of marrow ● This has suggested that cannibalism was undertaken here, more than any other feature of the site ● Some have, however, disputed this: they claim that the fractures might have occurred because of mortuary rites or that animals foraged on the bones in the caves
  • 13. Saccopastore, Lazio, Italy ● Two crania were recovered at this site, from a gravel pit merely 2.5 km from the River Tiber; the first in 1929 and the second in 1935 ● Some authorities regard these as the earliest true Neanderthal specimens in Europe and the Middle East ● Although in possession of clearly 'Neanderthal' features, such as the larger cranium, wide nose and robust build, it also displays more archaic characteristics ● The specimens have been dated to between 130,000 BP and 100,000 BP on the basis of their association with discrete stratigraphic layers in the gravel quarry ● It is unfortunate that no implements were found at the site
  • 14. Forbes' Quarry, Gibraltar ● One of first Neanderthal find was actually made in Gibraltar at Forbes' Quarry in 1848, rather than in Germany at the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf in 1856 ● If the find had been recognised as the fossil of an extinct hominim, the species would probably have bore the name of Gibraltar, but the earliest finds were made at Englis in Belgium in 1826 ● A series of Neanderthal remains have been recovered from the caves around Gibraltar: Devil’s Tower, Ibex, Gorham’s Cave and Vanguard Cave ● The Forbes' Quarry specimen is estimated to be roughly 70,000 years and is therefore the oldest of the Neanderthal finds that have been made at Gibraltar ● It is unfortunate that there was no cultural material recovered from the find as a detailed excavation was not undertaken
  • 15. Neanderthal Symbolic Capacity The Controversy Regarding Neanderthal Burial, Art and Cognitive Sophistication
  • 16. Purposive Burials ● A particularly strident controversy has developed over the symbolic capacity of Neanderthal ● This has focused on whether this species buried their dead, created art, showed any planning ability, and so forth ● The most sanguinary debate has concerned the burial of the dead, with some authorities denying that any of the finds represent deliberate inhumations ● Allied with this debate is the debate regarding cannibalism and other potentially religious practices ● In short, those that deny that Neanderthal had any abstract thought capacity see the burials merely as the abandonment of the body in caves and rockshelters, which were buried by natural collapses of the roof
  • 17. Shanidar, Iraq ● One of the cardinal sites in this controversy is at Shanidar in western Iraq, where a fascinating burial was encountered during excavations between 1957-1961 ● The site is located in a large cave and afforded the remains of ten individuals, one commingled amongst the faunal material and not identified until the processing of this material in the laboratory ● It is Shanidar IV that has elicited the most interest, but it should be noted that less obvious yet more compelling evidence for ritual behaviour was associated with Shanidar II ● The body here may have been accorded a ceremonial deposition, for there was a small pile of stones with some worked stone points (made out of chert) lying atop the grave and an hearth was situated immediately adjacent to it, perhaps as part of a memorial feast
  • 18. The 'Flower' Burial ● The most controversial burial was Shandiar IV which represents a male, between the age of thirty-five and forty years, buried in a foetal position ● Routine soil samples which were gathered for pollen analysis in an attempt to reconstruct the palaeoclimate and vegetational history of the site from around the body were analysed eight years after its discovery ● In two of the soil samples in particular, whole clumps of pollen were discovered in addition to the usual pollen found throughout the site and suggested that entire flowering plants (or at least heads of plants) had entered the grave deposit ● Furthermore, a study of the particular flower types suggested that the flowers may have been chosen for their specific medicinal properties
  • 19. Problems of Interpretation ● Although the suggestion that the Shanidar IV burial was accompanied by flowers was widely accepted, modern studies have postulated that the pollen was intrusive and therefore does not represent a deliberate inclusion ● Moreover, the burial has been regarded by some as a body abandoned in the cave and thus the pollen was introduced by natural processes such as wind circulation and trapped particles in the cave environment ● It is possible, too, that the body was abandoned and the plants began to grow around the skeleton before it was covered ● It is therefore not possible to find any agreement on the possible ritual activities associated with this burial, if it indeed is even accepted by scholars as a purposive
  • 20. The Controversy ● The main controversy concerns the depositional circumstances in which the Neanderthal remains have been found, namely, in caves and rockshelters which are subject to routine collapse ● A study of the burials containing Neanderthal remains shows that most of them have been subject to damage, possibly from falling rocks, therefore indicating that they were left exposed ● This, of course, does not mean that the bodies were not accorded with symbolic value and left—there are numerous ethnographic examples of houses and other structures being abandoned after death because of fear of the spirit or as part of a ritual to purify the site of habitation
  • 21. Caves and Rockshelters ● The argument concerning the criteria that we employ to determine a purposive burial is nevertheless sound and should be critically studied ● Because a body is found in a grave does not necessarily imply that it is burial which is accompanied by religious or spiritual conceptions ● Even when grave goods are present, the intention may merely have been to discard the personal belongings of the deceased ● This is nevertheless a profoundly critical view of burials—the practice is usually attended by notions of survival after death ● We know, for instance, that other mammals mourn their dead and it is possible that some continuation of life is entertained
  • 22. Cannibalism and Grotta Guattari ● In this connexion, it is relevant to consider the evidence for cannibalism ● This tradition does not necessarily imply ritual and religious thought—the consumption of the dead may have had prosaic purposes, namely, to eat an easily accessible meat resource ● At the Italian site of Grotta Guattari, however, it has been suggested that the brain was extracted from the foranum magnum as part of a ritual to consume this organ ● The consumption of the brain after death is commonplace in many cultures, usually undertaken to incorporate the vital essence of the deceased in ancestral cults ● However, recent studies have gainsaid the original interpretation
  • 23. Bear Skull Cults