Evidence from the Neanderthals & Darwinism…

January 10, 2010

Threats to western embassies in Yemen, the collapse of national security policies, Iran resisting enforced outsourcing for uranium enrichment: 2010 will be a feather in the cap of shock-and-awe journalists, I suspect. Those other stories, my little non-abrasive gems, will likely get lost in the bombardment. Hey, when the world is facing Armageddon (for the fourth or fifth time this millennium at last count), there is little time for pansy stuff like history or culture. Fair-trade gems shine nicely enough, but have you ever seen a 32 carat blood diamond dazzle? Don’t let GQ fool you, Porsche pushing ponces, bigger is better. Shaw said, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” God knows what else the old cad wrote, but this quote fits my context. Thank goodness for short-attention-spanned journalism.

And then you find some wonderful link tucked away at the bottom of the BBC’s main news page on their website connected to a deserving, under-read ditty. Yes, I forgot: reports can be interesting and (seemingly) insignificant to our world’s political health. The categories are not mutually exclusive. In any case, I found one such link. That happened today when I discovered the article “Neanderthal ‘make-up’ containers discovered“. Calm down. What did you expect them to be armed with…pistol cartridges? chocolates? This is a late Paleolithic species, and Maybelline has been flogging their goods since back when homo first got erectus. Of course the Neanderthals had makeup.

I know you are giddy at the moment, but let us think through this story a bit and remain unbiased by time and our conception of the Neanderthal. [After all, carpet-kept Cleopatra used loads of  mascara (reportedly beneficial to their eyes when loaded with silt derivatives), the Picts only have their name because of their (unconfirmed) bodily markings and/or modifications, and the stars of True Blood are covered in gobs of (tacky) white makeup. Why should the Neanderthals have done differently?] Previously, evidence produced in Africa revealed that Neanderthals used a black pigment, manganese, as body paint. New artifacts from Spain indicate that additional pigments and powders were utilized also. Residual “lumps of a yellow pigment” and of “red powder mixed up with flecks of a reflective brilliant black mineral” were discovered on two shells, apparently the cases for such mixtures. Shells could also be worn as jewelery. It is unclear what purpose this makeup may have served, though scientists guess that it was likely related to ceremonial practices, not necessarily Friday night, let’s-go-out-and-get-laid decoration.

I take your point, though. A Neanderthal face painted in makeup to the point of obscuring the inevitably protruding bone structure would do little to tempt a bitch in heat no less than Candida. But the point that researchers are attempting to make is that the Neanderthal is not the barbarian of our forefathers. They are trying to rescue and reinterpret our cultural understanding of the species, the homo sapiens’ nearest cousin (though they share 99.5-99.9% of our genome, they are not our ancestor!).

An ancient relative of Cyrano?

These are not the Ice Age cave dwellers of Geico commercials. One study finds that Neanderthals possessed the FoxP2 gene, shared with modern humans but not chimpanzees, suggesting that they may have spoken exactly as we do. According to other reports, several Neanderthal specimens have been found to have the mutated gene responsible for red hair. Yes, ginger bison-beaters. Which may explain, if you believe another study, part of the reason the species died off, inexplicably. Research may suggest that Neanderthal extinction occurred in response to climactic changes. Despite surviving several ice ages, the destruction of forest woodlands seems to have killed this species that hated the cold. So they moved to Spain, the site of the latest known skeletal remains, to soak up some sun. These fair-skinned gingers not only suffered as a result of their inability to deal with the changing, colder climate but probably had major sunburn issues as a result.

It’s just funny to me how much we have in common with our older selves, the earliest homo sapiens. Reports indicate very little (if any) interbreeding with Neanderthals. [Homo sapien racism: if it looks different, smells different and eats big ass mammals, it’s subhuman.] And by cutting down the trees and finding better means of butchering animals, we turned the funny-looking hairy people into pariahs of the ancient world. Even ancient homo sapiens (the tree killers of the Paleolithic Age) contributed to global warming. Ah, trends…

Darwin would argue that, without the appropriate means of adapting to a changing environment, this is nature’s Dear John letter to Neanderthals. Nature itself becomes Hexxus, and the Neanderthal is a FernGully with no fairies (though giants, if you believe Geoffrey of Monmouth) and no happy endings. Going back to Methuselah, we may assume that Nature is our benign life force, testing out species by trial and error to find the perfection. Sorry, that doesn’t offer any comfort to you (secret, hiding) Neanderthals. And it does make you wonder whether we are a success or too-late-to-be-realized error. Damn.

In any case, Neanderthal articles cast off sticky situations with the Middle East and impending elections of 2010. I appreciate them all the more for it. And unless articles like this continue, a law must be enacted to force journalists to choose a new profession. Perhaps Mrs. Warren’s?

[Points if you managed to spot the four G.B.S. allusions.]

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