The status and sophistication of the hominid species Neanderthal has been a matter of debate for decades. Once thought to be an ancestor man, genetic studies show it to be unrelated, though some studies have shown possible limited interbreeding. But how advanced were they? They existed for over a 100 millenia and went extinct about the same time man was making his big push across the globe. One recent study concludes they were building boats. They are the only other known hominid to ever approach man’s abilities.
Like all other hominids and primates, they pose a bit of problem for evolution in that they appear suddenly in history. The “family tree” of man is technically made up of assumed connections between bone fragments. Even though largely not considered man’s ancestor, they are often still referred as a “cousin” or such to fit into the evolutionary paradigm. This why some creationists still pretend they are humans in spite of the evidence. Taking this track instead of focusing on the more obvious problems doesn’t make a lot sense. I suspect this is just to fit this mysterious species into their own flawed interpretation of Earth’s history.
So where do neanderthals fit into the picture? How advanced did they get? Were they simply the latest in a long line of increasingly advanced primates, as some have suggested, designed to prepare the world for man? No evidence of religion or similar levels of sentience is known among them. Their use of simple tools is not unheard of in the animal world. But boats?
We pretend we have explained man’s past and the other beings we share the planet with. It takes only a quick glance to find that each new discovery has only proven we know very little.
It was religion that first said we all originated from the same ancestors, in one location and that intelligence and religion existed from the beginning. Science and history have caught up and verified these claims. Yet many still close one eye to the flaws and holes in evolution and young-earth creationism.
Perhaps someday people will allow facts lead to where they may without trying to bend them around a preconceived conclusion.
[For more on man’s past, see Who was Adam?.]
Contrary to the way many picture them, neanderthals were very advanced. Indeed, they were the most technologically complex hominin (except for us of course).
They produced symbolic artefacts, such as bead necklaces, controlled fire and to this day there are only a handful of experts able to produce their technology. And even they had to train for years to even approach the skill level neanderthals exhibit.
Surprisingly there is also evidence they were religious. Neanderthals buried their dead and for a ~50,000 year period we have more neanderthal graves than human! This strongly implies there was some kind of religious thinking amongst them.
They also don’t appear suddenly in the fossil record. Instead neanderthal traits gradually appear in their predecessor, Homo heidelbergensis. Whilst early members of heidel are significantly different to neanderthals, over a ~200,000 year period the defining characteristics of neanderthals emerge and by the end of it you’re left with the neanderthals as we know them today.
Homo heidelbergensis is also our ancestor (although some give the African variant of the species which gave rise to us a different name) making neanderthals our cousins.