How To Think Like a Neandertal

How To Think Like a Neandertal

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by Thomas Wynn, Frederick L. Coolidge
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Katherine Bouton
…[an] engaging reconstruction of Neanderthal life.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"An intriguing look at fellow beings who seem to have been 'inexact mirrors of ourselves'"
- Kirkus

"In How to Think Like a Neandertal, archaeologist Thomas Wynn and psychologist Frederick Coolidge provide one of the most rounded portraits yet of a fossil human. The book covers familiar areas - diet, symbolism and language - but also includes innovative assessments of Neanderthals' capacity to tell jokes, and even speculations on what they might have dreamed about."
- Clive Gamble, Nature

"Engaging reconstruction of Neandertal life..."
- The New York Times

"...How to Think Like a Neandertal is interesting and engaging. Written for a lay audience, it should nonetheless be of great interest to professionals in anthropology, evolutionary biology, and psychology. I also highly recommend it to anyone who wonders what it would have been like to live alongside another intelligent being who shared the designation homo."
- PsycCRITIQUES

Kirkus Reviews
An anthropologist and a psychologist apply concepts from their respective disciplines to speculate on the mental processes and social organization of our distant, Neandertal cousins. In this popular follow-up to their more scholarly work (The Rise of Homo sapiens: The Evolution of Modern Thinking, 2009 etc.), University of Colorado, Colorado Springs professors Wynn and Coolidge decipher clues from the Neandertal skeletons, stone artifacts and bones from sites where they hunted and butchered large predators that formed the major portion of their diet and genetic analysis. It is now accepted that modern humans and Neandertals descended from a common African ancestor around 500,000 years ago, and that we share more than 99.8 percent of our genes with them. They migrated to Europe around 200,000 years ago during a period of major glaciation, and became extinct for unknown reasons 30,000 years ago. Skeletal evidence suggests that their build would have been similar to ours, but male skeletons show grievous bodily injuries they likely received while hunting. The handheld stone-tipped spears they used for hunting indicate significant technical skills. They were cave dwellers who lived and hunted in small isolated groups of around 20 families, with little division of labor between the sexes. Wynn and Coolidge are convinced that they would have developed language, yet they note that there are no indications that the Neandertals had any of the spiritual concerns reflected in all known human societies--e.g, while they placed their dead in shallow graves, there is no indication that they practiced burial rites--perhaps because of biological differences in their brains or because of the harsh, demanding conditions of their daily lives. An intriguing look at fellow beings who seem to have been "inexact mirrors of ourselves," perhaps not as conceptually advanced but not so dissimilar either.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199912339
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
11/01/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
910,634
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Frederick Coolidge, Professor of Psychology, University of ColoradoThomas Wynn, Professor of Archeology, University of Colorado

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How To Think Like a Neandertal 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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