Re: Neanderthals

Carl Feynman (
Fri, 18 Jul 1997 11:53:53 -0400

At 07:15 PM 7/17/97 -0400, wrote:
>In a message dated 7/17/97 1:47:53 PM, wrote:
>>The only difference between a dead species
>>and the most advanced species to
>>exist on earth is the ability to create art!
>Not really true. Bones of Neanderthal children show sign of heavy use (as
>compared to Cro-Magnon), as I understand, so at least children were treated
>differently. There were certainly physiological differences (shoulder
>strength, larynx shape). There *could* have been significant psychological
>or cultural differences as well. We wouldn't know; those things don't
>fossilize well.

As far as I can tell, it is possible that the Neanderthals couldn't talk, or
at least not nearly as well as we could. They might, for exmple, have had a
vocabulary of a few hundred words, and a grammar that only allowed two-word
sentences. This is a stage in the development of human language that kids
spend some time in around age two, whch allows sentences of the forms "gimme
juice", "go house", "brown dog", etc. It's a long way from real language,
albeit a huge advance over no language at all. It may well not be enough to
support a culture that permits the development and appreciation of art.

That's my cockamamie theory of why the Neaderthals lost out. For another
theory, possibly less cockamamie since it was come up with by an
archaeologist after much thought, I reccommend "The Prehistory of the Mind"
by Steven Mithen. It's a theory on the cognitive architecture of the minds
of the hominids, based on archeological evidence. It's fairly cool stuff
and may even be right. It's a well-written book.

My 19-month-old daughter can speak three human words (juice, me, and done)
and four animal sounds (woof-woof, sssss, baa, and moo). And we don't have
pets or live on a farm; this all from looking at books and occaisional zoo
visits. Mithen claims that there is a part of the brain specialized to the
learning of facts about plants and animals, and it's easy to believe when I
watch my daughter learn stuff about animals faster than she learns about
things our culture considers important (talking, cleanliness, fairness...).


PS. She's also obsessed with trains, which I think file under 'animals' in
her brain. When we drive around, she spots railroad crossings out the
window and points them out with great excitement. If trains were animals,
she'd be spotting game trails. All this from someone who poops at random
and frequently trips over specks of dust!