Glimpse into Neanderthal Culture
When one thinks of the Humanoid genus Homo Sapiens neanderthalensis (HSN) they picture a very primitive creature, simplistic in nature with few social complexities. However, upon close examination of several Neanderthan archeological sites, one will find the Neanderthal man had all of the necessary elements for the beginning of the formation of modern society. It was once thought that these elements were only present after Neanderthan culture after contact with Home Sapiens (HSS). However, evidence now exists that suggests that Neanderthals were already well on their way to developing a formal, but rudimentary, culture well before contact with HSS. This research will examine these findings using evidence gathered from the Petralona, Larga Velhol, St. Cesaire, Shanidar, and Arago sites. This research will support the thesis that Neanderthals had the beginnings of an advanced society prior to contact with Home Sapiens and that the disappearance of the Neanderthan culture was a result of the intermixing of HSN species with HSS species.
The use of language by Neanderthal man has been as issue of contention since the first discoveries of the culture. Some archeologists paint the picture of Neanderthal man as a highly advanced mammal with little or no language capability. However, this is inconsistent with other findings. One of the keys to deciphering these arguments is to be careful in the definition of language. There are many aspects to the term “language.” One might consider language to consist of a series of non-verbal cues and sounds that to modern man would not seem like a language, as we know it today. The silver-backed gorilla and chimpanzee have been found to have an advanced language of this type and have even been able to learn out language by way of sign language in some cases. Neanderthal man was more advanced in other areas than these other primates in tool usage and manufacture, and other areas of advanced culture. It would stand to reason then, that they had a language, at least as advanced as that of the more advanced primates of today. Perhaps the language of today’s advanced primates is more complex than we are aware and it is simply a case of us not being able to understand or to pick up on subtleties known only to native speakers. Let us now examine the evidence.
A necklace was found at Arcy-sur-Cure in France, by Jean-Jaques Hublin and colleagues (1996, p. 224). This necklace was obviously worn for the purpose of personal ornamentation and had no functional purpose. There are many differing argument as to whether Neanderthal man was the sole inventor, acquired it by trade, of imitated that design form another group of humanoids living nearby at the time. These arguments will be discussed later in this research.
As far as the necklace as an indication of language is concerned, the necklace indicates at least some form of language present that includes an abstract element. The argument as to whether the necklace was an original Neanderthan piece or acquired by some means, in this case, is irrelevant, as either way Neanderthal man would have to have had a means to communicate the meaning. It the piece is a Neanderthan original, then there had to be communication regarding abstract ideas within the group. This would mean that the symbolism would have to have been conveyed. This indicates a primitive form of religion. If the piece were imitated after contact with another group, then this is not as strong of an argument for language use because it may be that it was imitated without the meaning being conveyed. However, the piece serves no purpose necessary for living, so why would Neanderthal man imitate something that was of little use, unless it had some other meaning for them? The discovery of this necklace makes several compelling arguments that Neanderthal man had to have some form of language at he time of the manufacture of this necklace. We do not know whether this was a verbal language or one made of mainly non-verbal clues and postures, as that which are seen in wolf packs. However, we do know that this language had the ability to convey abstract ideas and that makes it different than the language of mammals of today, even that of advanced primates.
Arguments published by Lieberman and colleagues (1971) have been the primary basis for arguments that Neanderthals had no language capabilities. They argue that Neanderthals lacked the ability to pronounce certain vowels based on skull morphology. However, it has been proven that this is not a necessary part of language and that Neanderthal man may not have had the same language as modern man, but that a language did indeed exist (Heim, 1989). Wind (1992) states that is possible to produce speech without a larynx.
Again, we are now down to defining exactly what we mean as “language.” Myers (1976) says that the vocalizations of chimpanzees and other higher order primates are involuntary and do not constitute language. However, there are many that would disagrees, especially the famous Primate expert, Jane Goodall, who found distinctive patterns in the vocalizations and actions of higher primates. The argument that Neanderthals showed signs of a system of symbols would lead us to believe that no matter what the mechanism for language, this requires language non — the less. If one does no consider non-verbal forms of communication, then can it be said that persons that are totally deaf and use only sign language with little or no speech capability do not have language? The arguments of Lieberman and colleagues defined language as having vocal cords and the capabilities to produce a full range of modern human sounds. This has not been shown to be necessary for a formal language to be developed. There are many other complex forms of communication than verbal language and the scholarly debate seems to be one more of definition, than of fact.
What happened to the Neanderthal is an important question in answering some basic questions regarding Neanderthal culture. There are some theorists, that have been largely discredited by the academic profession, who theorized that the HSS variety of humans gained such a rapid and wide spread wave that the Neanderthals were wiped out by things such as food competition and war. However, there seems to be little archeological evidence to support these violent and drastic theories. There is another, softer version of this theory that states that the earth was undergoing rather rapid climatological change and that the Neanderthals were not adapted to the new climate and eventually died out. The HSS species was more closely adapted to the new environment and eventually replaced the Neanderthals.
Though these theories are intriguing, there is little physical evidence to support them. If the extinction of the Neanderthals happened rapidly, one would expect to see an abrupt stop in the tools and artifacts found along with the bodies. Then an abrupt beginning to the new style. In addition, one would not expect to find transitional species as well. However, there are many examples of how the tools used by Neanderthals gradually developed into that of early archaic humans. The Neanderthals were making advances in tools long before the appearance of HSS. However, after the appearance of the HSS species these changes began happening at a more rapid pace than before. This would indicate that the advances in tools were a result of contact between the two species.
There are many remains that are considered to be intermediates between the HSN and HSS species. However, we still find those who dispute that these two species ever intermixed. Flemming (1996) states that just because these two cultures had similar cognitive capacity and culture, and lived side by side, this does not necessarily mean that they mixed. Later in that same statement he also stated that the when the early Europeans first came to the Americas, they did not interbreed. This is almost laughable due to the existence of many documents of the early settlers in America that indicate otherwise. In addition, how would Flemming explain the existence of skulls at Shanidar, Arago, Petrolona, Largo Valhi and St. Cesaire that are a mix between HSN and HSS?
The existence of transitional tools and of transitional skulls would indicate that the disappearance of the Neanderthal is more likely to be the result of the mixing of HSN and HSS to form a new species, modern man. This type of transition would be slow and gradual and one would expect to see many subtle changes in both skull morphology, artifacts, and cultural elements along the way. This is exactly what we find. Shanidar, Arago, Petrolona, Largo Valhi and St. Cesaire are transitional sites and show a transition from HSN to HSS culture and morphology. There are elements of both cultures evident both physically and in the items that they made.
In dispute of Flemming’s statement that the two cultures lived side by side and clearly shared…