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The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers

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How did the Neanderthals live? Why did they suddenly disappear? The paleoanthropologist codirecting the largest Neanderthal dig in the world, at Sierra de Atapuerca in Spain, portrays a world long ago... The struggle between the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons lasted thousands of years. The Cro-Magnons, unlike the Neanderthals, were not biologically fit for extreme cold weather, but their ingenuity allowed them to settle down, band together, and survive. In this tale of life and death and the awakening of human ...
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The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers

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Overview

How did the Neanderthals live? Why did they suddenly disappear? The paleoanthropologist codirecting the largest Neanderthal dig in the world, at Sierra de Atapuerca in Spain, portrays a world long ago... The struggle between the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons lasted thousands of years. The Cro-Magnons, unlike the Neanderthals, were not biologically fit for extreme cold weather, but their ingenuity allowed them to settle down, band together, and survive. In this tale of life and death and the awakening of human awareness, Juan Luis Arsuaga depicts the dramatic struggle between two clashing species. Only one is to survive.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this meandering story, Spanish paleoanthropologist Arsuaga examines a plethora of scientific data in order to establish the place of the Neanderthals in our developmental lineage. Based on discoveries of skeletal remains on the Iberian peninsula, he argues that the Neanderthals possessed a larger skull-and hence a larger brain-than previous hominids of the apelike Australopithecines. In the author's view, the Neanderthals might well have used their cerebral capacities to solve problems, make tools and interact socially in their community; archeological evidence shows Neanderthals were very likely the first hominids to make two-sided tools for hunting and building. In addition, cave art indicates that Neanderthals understood, tentatively at least, the value of giving meaning to their world through symbols and stories. Eventually, the Cro-Magnons, with more highly developed brains and social systems, moved into Europe, competing with the Neanderthals for food and shelter. The latter disappeared from the earth, and today we think of the Cro-Magnons as our direct hominid ancestors. Although Arsuaga's thesis is clear enough, his narrative rambles erratically . For example, he spends three chapters on the fauna and flora of the Ice Age without clearly connecting them to his main ideas. In addition, his account requires familiarity with scientific jargon ("Mode I technology," "cladistics," "biogeography"), that Arsuaga does not explain adequately. What could have been a fascinating story instead devolves into a hodgepodge of paleontological and anthropological theories. (Dec. 2) FYI: A related exhibit, based on Arsuaga's work, opens at New York's American Museum of Natural History in January 2003. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The work of noted Spanish paleoanthropologist Arsuaga at excavations at Sierra de Atapuerca (where he is codirector) has influenced our understanding of human evolution. This ambitious work not only tracks the twisted course of human evolution but puts it in the context of ecosystems, colonization, and glaciations. According to the author, Neanderthals evolved independently in Europe; science knows when they disappeared but not why or how. Arsuaga speculates as to how Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons (our direct ancestors) interacted with one another and why the latter were able to survive while the former became extinct after hundreds of thousands of years of successful existence. Arsuaga contends that Neanderthals never developed the capacity for symbolic language, either oral or visual, favoring a natural type of intelligence instead. Conversely, Cro-Magnons developed symbolic language and thought, which led them to invent and develop new tool technology and thus quickly outdistance the Neanderthals. A provocative book for scholars and people with an interest in human origins; recommended for larger academic anthropology collections. [A major exhibit based on the author's work will open at New York's American Museum of Natural History in January 2003.-Ed.]-Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Whatever happened to that nice Neanderthal family that lived down the lane? Bad things, this lively prehistory tells us—courtesy, perhaps, of our Cro-Magnon ancestors.

As Spanish paleoanthropologist Arsuaga writes, prehistorians have long suspected that the Neanderthals, a northerly branch of the human family, were done in by the early modern humans who arrived in Europe from Africa about 40,000 years ago. The process may have taken thousands of years, he adds, and other factors may have had more to do with the demise of the Neanderthal line than Cro-Magnon nastiness, including the sad fact that Neanderthals didn’t live very long to begin with. (Life expectancy at birth was "well under thirty years.") The competition was one-sided in any event. Neanderthals and modern humans, "alternative human models, each representing a different but effective evolutionary response to the identical challenges they faced," had very different skills, and the brute strength of the former was in the end no match for the cunning of the latter. Writing of a climatologically confused time when tigers and wooly mammoths lived side by side, Arsuaga offers an engaging tour of prehistoric Europe and especially of ancient Spain and southern France, from which the bulk of the archaeological evidence comes. He explores some of the critical differences that obtained between Neanderthals and modern humans: physically compact, the first were better suited to life in a cold climate than the newcomers, but the second had the crucial tool of language and symbolic thought at their disposal. The Cro-Magnons were thus able to scheme up traps and fibs, but, more importantly, also to plan ahead, save for a rainy day, and"reap the maximum benefit from what nature had to offer at any given time of the year." On such differences does extinction or survival hinge, and Arsuaga does a good job of detailing the particulars of evolution’s logic.

A satisfying, up-to-date outing for students of ancient humankind and its less fortunate cousins.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568581873
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Juan Luis Arsuaga is Paleoanthropologist and Professor of Human Paleontology in Madrid, Visiting Professor at the University College of London and co-director of excavations at Sierra de Atapuerca (a World Heritage Site). Dr. Arsuaga’s work there and the discovery of Homo antecessor has transformed the history of human evolution and won him the Premio Príncipe de Asturias 1997. A member of the American National Academy of Sciences, he is a regular contributor to Nature, Science, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and editor of the Journal of Human Evolution.

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Table of Contents

Prologue
Pt. 1 Shadows of the Past 1
Ch. 1 The Solitary Species 3
Ch. 2 The Human Paradox 27
Ch. 3 The Neanderthals 53
Pt. 2 Life in the Ice Age 95
Ch. 4 The Animated Forest 97
Ch. 5 The Reindeer Are Coming! 123
Ch. 6 The Great Extinction 157
Pt. 3 The Storytellers 201
Ch. 7 A Poisoned Gift 203
Ch. 8 Children of the Fire 233
Ch. 9 And the World Was Made Transparent 275
Epilogue: Domesticated Man 305
Afterword 315
In Memoriam 317
Acknowledgments 319
Bibliography 321
Index 327
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2003

    Fascinating and orignal

    The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers It's a rare book that delivers more than it promises, but Juan Luis Arsuaga's _The Neanderthal's Necklace_ does just that. The book jacket presents it as a story of the 10,000-year-long encounter between the Neanderthals and our own Cro-Magnon ancestors, a story that ends with the disappearance of the Neanderthals some 27,000 years ago. Arsuaga discusses that epochal culture clash at length and with many fresh insights. However, he weaves that narrative into a much grander story--his expert take on the evolution not just of the Neanderthals and our own very young species, but of all the other walking primates that preceded us back to whatever great-grandparent species we shared with organutangs, gorillas and chimpanzees some 6 million years ago. For good measure, Arsuaga throws in his original and highly readable takes on many key evolutionary issues, on the nature of consciousness, and--really the theme of the book--on when, where and how our own 'hypersymbolic' human consciousness emerged. Arsuaga, a leading Spanish paleoanthropologist, has strong views on many topics. He's convinced that modern humans are unique. 'Anatomically, we are but erect primates . . .' he argues. 'At the same time, we humans are radically different from all other animals due to the astonishing phenomena of our intelligence, our capacity for reflection, and a broad self-consciousness of all aspects of our behavior.' Accordingly, he denies consciousness, at least as he defines it, not only to non-human animals, but even to many of the upright, tool-using species that preceded us. ' . . . animals lack both self-awareness and perceptive awareness, or consciousness. They are no more than biological machines.' (Immediately after this hackle-raising statement, Arsuaga is perceptive enough to apologize 'to all cat- and dog-lovers,' whose beloved pets, he concedes, may possibly have 'perceptive consciousness.') After in-depth discussions of almost every line of evidence, Arsuaga comes to several very interesting conclusions about the development of the fully human consciousness he so highly values. Surprisingly, he grants first membership in the consciousness club to a truly ancient ancestor, _Homo ergaster_, whose 1.8 million-year-old fossils have been found in modern-day Kenya. Not only did _H. ergaster_ have a body closer in size and shape to our own, but a brain that was a significant chunk larger than our first tool-using ancestor, _Homo habilis_. Unlike _habilis_, _ergaster_ fashioned biface stone tools--'chipped on two surfaces with obvious skill and concern for symmetry. 'These primitive human beings were conscious of what they were doing, and they cared about the tools they carried in their hands,' Arsuaga writes. Like most current researchers, Arsuaga is clear that Neanderthal's were not our direct ancestors, but a relatively recent, parallel, and ultimately extinct human branch. Still, he grants them a mental world nearly equal to our own. After all, he points out, they made tools just as carefully as their archaic human neighbors, made fire, and buried their dead. Still, he concludes from anatomical studies that they could not produce fully articulated speech, and that they never entered the richly symbolic world that we inhabit (with rare exceptions like the book's namesacke). He focuses on two clues to this consciousness gap. It was the Cro-magnons some 32,000 years ago who began to represent the world they saw and imagined in those haunting cave paintings, and who devoted enormous amounts of time and effort to personal adornment. That's when, he writes poetically, 'the world was made transparent.' By that he means that with their newly re-tooled minds, our immediate ancestors projected all their intuitive understanding of each other, all of their deep immersion into symbols, onto the entire world. 'All of a sudden and unexpectedly,' he writes, 'the spirit of our land, ol

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    Posted August 14, 2009

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