The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkersby Juan Luis Arsuaga
The Neanderthals provide a surprising mirror for modern-day humanity. They belonged to our evolutionary group and lived like the Cro-Magnons, our ancestors, did worshipping, socializing, and hunting. The struggle between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons lasted thousands of years. The Cro-Magnons were not biologically fit for extreme cold weather, but their
The Neanderthals provide a surprising mirror for modern-day humanity. They belonged to our evolutionary group and lived like the Cro-Magnons, our ancestors, did worshipping, socializing, and hunting. The struggle between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons lasted thousands of years. The Cro-Magnons 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, death, and the awakening of human awareness, Juan Luis Arsuaga, Spain's most celebrated paleoanthropologist, depicts the dramatic struggle between two clashing species, of which only one survives.
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.
- Basic Books
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- 5.06(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.91(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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