Call me inquisitive if you like, but I admit to a long-standing, burning curiosity about the Neanderthal people. That prolific, brilliant author, Isaac Asimov, once wrote a novel about modern humans transporting a young Neanderthal child to the modern world to try to find out what had happened to them. I read his novel eagerly but, like him and like everyone else, I cannot explain with any certainty what could have caused these highly adapted, community-minded people to die out, leaving us as the only species of humans on the planet.
(Incidentally, the novel by Asimov was called “Child of Time” and it was originally a short story called “The Ugly Little Boy”. That last title is not very complimentary to how Neanderthals might have looked, but you get the idea.)
It seems to me that the Neanderthals were tantalizingly similar to us, yet mysteriously different as well. They didn’t farm, but then neither did we at that time in our past. They didn’t create rock art (at least to the best of our knowledge). Yet they buried their dead and looked after their old and infirm. In some respects one would think they would have been more likely to survive than we were. For instance, they were better adapted than Homo sapiens to a frozen world. They survived thousands of years of Ice Age. Their bones were far stronger than ours. Our bones are finer, more fragile, much more breakable. They would have won a wrestling contest with us easily.
So why did they, around 35000 years ago, become extinct?
Image from wpclipart.com
Here’s your chance to plumb the depths of this mystery and go back to the time before homo sapiens were the only human beings on the planet. Have a look at each link below to view some fascinating speculations about Neanderthals:
- Their brains were 20% bigger than ours, they were better adapted to the cold and they could probably talk. So why did they die out? Look at this site (BBC Science and Nature) which tackles this question.
- Neanderthals might have had more difficulty with childbirth. Look at this site (National Geographic) to find out the details of this discovery.
- Neanderthals could have had red hair and freckles…like the Weasleys.
- Neanderthals may have been less likely to suffer from mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.
Of course, many of these ideas are theory rather than fact.
Now, write down what you think. You might have a theory, a question or a perceptive comment to make on the life and the fate of the Neanderthals. Don’t forget that if you find a fascinating site or interesting piece of information you can leave a comment with the details to inspire and interest others (including your inquisitive teacher).