National Geographic Calls Neanderthals "Victims of Love"

I hope the Eagles aren’t reading the popular anthropology literature!
     It was only a matter of time…
     National Geographic Daily News ran a story a day or so ago that touted Barton et al.‘s effort to model the sexual interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans, on which I’ve previously opined. [Why do they and others like them get positive press and never me? Hey, they elected George W. Bush, didn’t they? Both could be said to have been decisions made without the critical faculties in evidence. Sour grapes? Me? You must be joking!]

For the bare bones of their female Neanderthal reconstruction, artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis feminized a cast of a composite male Neanderthal skeleton originally put together from various specimens by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. For instance, in place of the male pelvis from Kebara, Israel, used in the AMNH skeleton, they substituted a female Neanderthal pelvis from the nearby site of Tabun. Other body parts were rescaled to female dimensions. Paleoanthropologist Steve Churchill [with whom yours truly worked in the summer of ’89 at Kebara Cave in Israel] of Duke University made calculations to reduce male bone sizes to female dimensions. For the head the Kennis brothers combined skull parts from a female specimen from a cave in Spy, Belgium, with the face of a famous female Neanderthal skull from Gibraltar. Found in 1848, but not identified as Neanderthal until 1864, the Gibraltar specimen was one of the first Neanderthal skulls ever discovered, and it still ranks among the most complete. Working with replicas of the bones, the Kennis brothers assembled the skeleton at their studio near Arnhem, Netherlands (From National Geographic Daily News).

To illustrate their account NG rolled out a recent reconstruction, that of the Kennis brothers. You’ll notice right away that the nose is, once again, dipping at 45 degrees from the horizontal. However, I’d hasten to add in this case it’s anatomically correct. That’s because the part used to model the nose was the os nasalis (nasal bone) of the Forbes Quarry Neanderthal, which is less like the so-called ‘Classic’ morphotype, and more in keeping with that of Homo antecessor, the Middle Pleistocene hominid from northern Spain that in all likelihood gave rise to the Neanderthals. It’s quite possible that if one were to take a closer look at the Forbes Quarry individual, a case could be made that it was indeed not a vrais Neanderthal, but a very early one, or a late member of the H. antecessor grade. 

[Physical/biological anthropology. Now there’s job security for you!] 

And just to emphasize a point I’ve made before, in the frontal view below I’ve as best as possible indicated the actual sizes of the orbits and nasal aperture using the Forbes Quarry specimen as a guide. As you can easily see, even though the profile of her nose conforms to the Forbes Quarry fossil remains, the flesh of the nose could easily fit inside her nasal aperture. That’s just wrong. Moreover, they’ve ignored the volume of those enormous eye orbits and pencilled in eyeballs and pupils like yours and mine. It gives her a modern human gaze, but I hardly think that an eyeball triple the volume of ours would have functioned with a pupil the same size as ours. The Neanderthal face almost certainly did not undergo such profound evolutionary changes only to house an eye with the same visual acuity as yours and mine.

Living ‘rough’ in the Pleistocene, where the only makeup was ferrous oxide and every day was a ‘bad hair’ day! Venus of Willendorf, she ain’t. If Neanderthals were so much like us, why are they ever portrayed as unkempt and surly? Kinda reminds me of a come-back I once heard at the suggestion that chimps are just like us: ‘If they’re so much like us, why do you need to keep them in cages?’ [I just adore all of the ingrained dirt!]

So, I leave you again with my sincere apologies for harping on and on about these distant relations of ours. But as you know, the other kids won’t stop blathering about them either. So I’m demanding equal time. 

[Let’s see. Several hundred of them. Carry the three. Minus the number of fingers on my left hand. I reckon I should be able to blog once a day for the next 250 or so years if I’m going to put the equal time rule to best use. 250 years oughta do it!]

2 thoughts on “National Geographic Calls Neanderthals "Victims of Love"

  1. Interested question from a neanderthal novice – so how big were neanderthal eyes?! And big eyes are often regarded as beautiful – were neanderthals better looking than the picture above suggests?

    PS. Love your work – keep it coming! 🙂

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  2. LOL. Thanks, S.B. Sorry I didn't catch your comment until now. They must have been pretty darned good-looking to have caught the eye [cough] of all those eligible modern humans that wandered into Europe at the height of the last glacial stage!

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