How To Think Like a Neandertal
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There have been many books, movies, and even TV commercials featuring Neandertals--some serious, some comical. But what was it really like to be a Neandertal? How were their lives similar to or different from ours?
In How to Think Like a Neandertal, archaeologist Thomas Wynn and psychologist Frederick L. Coolidge team up to provide a brilliant account of the mental life of Neandertals, drawing on the most recent fossil and archaeological remains. Indeed, some Neandertal remains are not fossilized, allowing scientists to recover samples of their genes--one specimen had the gene for red hair and, more provocatively, all had a gene called FOXP2, which is thought to be related to speech. Given the differences between their faces and ours, their voices probably sounded a bit different, and the range of consonants and vowels they could generate might have been different. But they could talk, and they had a large (perhaps huge) vocabulary--words for places, routes, techniques, individuals, and emotions. Extensive archaeological remains of stone tools and living sites (and, yes, they did often live in caves) indicate that Neandertals relied on complex technical procedures and spent most of their lives in small family groups. The authors sift the evidence that Neandertals had a symbolic culture--looking at their treatment of corpses, the use of fire, and possible body coloring--and conclude that they probably did not have a sense of the supernatural. The book explores the brutal nature of their lives, especially in northwestern Europe, where men and women with spears hunted together for mammoths and wooly rhinoceroses. They were pain tolerant, very likely taciturn, and not easy to excite.
Wynn and Coolidge offer here an eye-opening portrait of Neandertals, painting a remarkable picture of these long-vanished people and providing insight, as they go along, into our own minds and culture.
make and use tools. Not surprisingly, they were very good at it. We see this most clearly in their stone knapping, where they mastered and perfected one of the most difficult stone-working techniques: Levallois. But they were not slaves to a single way of doing things. They varied their knapping techniques according to the nature and availability of raw material and regularly squeezed maximum use out of their tools by modifying them into several successive tool types. In this chapter we have
much of our hourly, daily social interaction is done with our faces, hands, postures, and so on. We have all had the experience of walking into an occupied room and knowing immediately that something was amiss. How did we know? We knew because much of our knowledge of social situations comes from the postures and facial expressions of others and ourselves. As primates, we have evolved neural mechanisms to support this ability. One such ability is motor mimicry. When interacting with others, we
Dream 147 position in a nest or on a branch in order to assure that a fall did not occur.2 It may also have had adaptive value if the reflex occurred in response to the beginning of an actual fall. Perhaps it allowed the sleeper a chance to stop a fall or to grab on to something at the beginning of a fall. During this initial period of falling asleep, humans and chimpanzees (and many other primates) exhibit a rhythmic brain wave called “alpha.” Compared to other brain waves, alpha has a medium
identified on an electroencephalograph (EEG, a machine that measures brain waves) because of two other brain wave features: spindles and K-complexes. N-2 brain waves look just like N-1 brain waves (higher frequency, lower amplitude), except that about every 30 seconds, a sudden, brief high-amplitude 13-to-16-Hertz wave occurs. These are sleep spindles. They appear to originate below the level of the cortex from lower brain structures 14 8 H ow to T h i n k Li k e a N e a n d erta l like the
they, and what were they doing? Eventually, as these Cro-Magnons moved closer, our Neandertals would have seen parties of women and children foraging apart from the men. They didn’t try to kill large animals, but instead focused on small game, often using long nets to capture small mammals. They even occasionally built devices that killed or captured 18 6 H ow to T h i n k Li k e a N e a n d erta l animals when the people were not even nearby; the women would return the next day to collect