In praise of… Neanderthal man

Editorial: Research by a team based at the University of Bristol suggests that, far from being a lumbering, witless no-hoper, he was capable, 50,000 years ago, of producing forms of cosmetic adornment and even of primitive jewellery

It seems we have all been guilty of defaming Neanderthal man. Research by a team based at the University of Bristol suggests that, far from being a lumbering, witless no-hoper, he was capable, 50,000 years ago, of producing forms of cosmetic adornment and even of primitive jewellery. In 1985, finds in Murcia, Spain, had suggested that this might be so; and now an expedition led by Professor João Zilhão of Bristol has uncovered a shell which shows "a symbolic dimension in behaviour and thinking that cannot be denied". All of which suggests some decent equivalence with the hitherto far more highly rated early modern man a whole 10 millennia later. Palaeolithic archaeologists will not be alone in returning to their drawing boards. It has long been the practice in pubs and clubs and the media to use the word Neanderthal to condemn attitudes considered less than enlightened than one's own. Trade union leaders reluctant to take the advice of the Daily Mail or Daily Express have frequently found themselves assigned to this class. Sluggish footballers have come in for similar treatment. "It was a very, very worrying performance," one pundit wrote of a Republic of Ireland display against Cyprus last autumn, "with tactics that bordered on the Neanderthal." Primitive, uncivilised, ultraconservative, reactionary – all are offered as meanings of Neanderthal in current dictionaries. In the light of these latest findings, it would surely be Neanderthal (old meaning, of course) not to amend them now.

Editorial

The GuardianTramp

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