Today, the majority of paleoanthropologists believe that the Neandertals were a species separate from modern humans. The implication of their being a separate species is that if the Neandertals were living today, they probably would not be able to reproduce with us. But as we pointed out in Part I, most paleoanthropologists also believe that there was at least some degree of cross-fertilization between Neandertals and modern humans. These two beliefs seem to represent a contradiction in the species concept in human evolution that requires clarification.
DNA studies are the major basis on which the Neandertals are considered to be a separate species. We also showed in Part I that DNA comparisons do not constitute a proper “tool” by which to determine species relationships. The only “tool” by which to determine species relationships is fertility. Obviously, with fossil individuals, this determination is impossible.
However, there are two lines of evidence, more objective than DNA interpretation, that support the fact that the Neandertals were fully human ancestors of modern humans, especially Europeans. These lines of evidence are:
The amount of evidence in these two areas is extensive.
The “classic” Neandertal differs somewhat from the typical modern human—the Neandertal skull is a bit flatter and elongated, the chin is rounder, and the skeleton is more robust. However, there is much overlap. In fact, there should never have been a question about Neandertal’s status in the human family. When the first Neandertal was discovered in 1856, even “Darwin’s bulldog,” Thomas Huxley, recognized that it was fully human and not an evolutionary ancestor. Donald Johanson, who discovered the famous fossil, Lucy, writes:
From a collection of modern human skulls Huxley was able to select a series with features leading “by insensible gradations” from an average modern specimen to the Neandertal skull. In other words, it wasn’t qualitatively different from present-day Homo sapiens.1
What Huxley discovered 150 years ago—gradations from Neandertals to modern humans—is clearly seen in the fossil record today. We are not referring to an evolutionary transition from earlier Neandertals to later modern humans. We are referring to morphological gradations between Neandertals and modern humans both living at the same time as contemporaries and representing a single human population. Whereas evolutionists have chosen to divide these Europeans into two categories—Neandertals and anatomically modern Homo sapiens, the individual fossils do not fit well into those categories. There is a wide range of variation among modern humans, and there is also much variation within the Neandertal category. A number of fossils in each group are very close to a subjective line which divides the two groups. The placement of that line is dependent upon the individual paleoanthropologist making the assessment. Since these fossil individuals could be categorized either way, they constitute a seamless gradation between Neandertals and modern humans. Thus, they demonstrate that the distinction made by evolutionists is an artificial one.
Among fossils usually classified as Neandertal are at least 26 individuals from six different sites who are clearly close to that subjective line which divides Neandertals from anatomically modern Homo sapiens. These fossils constitute part of that continuum or gradation. Evolutionists recognize these fossils as departing from the classic Neandertal morphology and describe them as “progressive” or “advanced” Neandertals. Their shape is sometimes explained as the result of gene flow (hybridization) with more modern populations. This would conflict with the interpretation of mtDNA and nuclear DNA that the Neandertals and modern humans are not the same species—since reproduction is on the species level. Those sites having “advanced” Neandertals are:
Completing that continuum or gradation from Neandertals to modern humans are at least 107 individuals from five sites who are usually grouped with fossils categorized as anatomically modern humans. However, since they are close to that subjective line which divides them from the Neandertals, they are often described as “archaic moderns” or stated to have “Neandertal affinities” or “Neandertal features.” These five sites are:
Creationists maintain that the differences found in the fossil material between Neandertals and modern humans are the result of geography, not evolution. Notice that of the 133 fossil individuals that are “close to the line” between Neandertal and modern European morphology, all but four of them are from Eastern or Central Europe. If the differences between the Neandertals and modern Europeans were ones reflecting a degree of geographic isolation, perhaps Eastern Europe is where the hybridization or the homogenization began.
If the fossils mentioned above could constitute a gradation within a single, genetically diverse, population, an obvious question is: “Why do evolutionists place them in two separate species?” The answer is that the theory of human evolution demands such separation. Humans are alleged to have evolved from the australopithecines—a group of extinct primates. In other words, we evolved from beings who were not only outside of our species, but were also outside of our genus. Hence, the evolutionist must create categories, species, or intermediate steps between the australopithecines and modern humans in an attempt to create an alleged evolutionary sequence. Fossils that are very similar are placed in one species. Fossils with some differences from the first group are placed in another species.
Evolutionists must create species, whether they are legitimate or not, in an attempt to show the stages or steps that they believe we passed through in our evolution from lower primates. Hence, most evolutionists today place the Neandertals in a species separate from modern humans. Some evolutionists believe that the Neandertals evolved into (some) modern humans. Others believe that the Neandertals were a failed evolutionary experiment that did not quite make it to full humanity and became extinct. In either case, most evolutionists do not believe that the Neandertals themselves were fully human, at least in a behavioral sense. The fossil evidence suggests otherwise. The full range of genetic and behavioral variation within the human family encompasses the Neandertals.
At least 475 Neandertal fossil individuals have been discovered so far at about 124 sites in Europe, the Near East, and western Asia. This number includes those European archaic Homo sapiens fossils that are now called Neandertal or pre-Neandertal. Of these 475 Neandertal individuals, at least 258 of them (54%) represent burials—all of them burials in caves or rock shelters. Further, it is obvious that caves were used as family burial grounds or cemeteries, as the following sites show:
“Arguably, Krapina was a specialized burial site, since it contains relatively limited evidence for actual occupation.”17
The reason we have so many Neandertal fossils is because they did bury their dead. (The bodies were thus protected from carnivore activity.) Most anthropologists recognize burial as a very human and a very religious act. Richard Klein (Stanford University) writes: “Neanderthal graves present the best case for Neanderthal spirituality or religion ....”19 Only humans bury their dead.
Perhaps the strongest evidence that Neandertals were fully human and of our biblical “kind” is that at four sites people of Neandertal morphology and people of modern human morphology were buried together. In all of life, few desires are stronger than the desire to be buried with one’s own people. Skhul Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel, is considered to be a burial site of anatomically modern Homo sapiens individuals. Yet, Skhul IV and Skhul IX fossil skulls are closer to the Neandertal configuration than they are to modern humans.20 Qafzeh, Galilee, Israel, is also considered to be an anatomically modern burial site. However, Qafzeh skull 6 is clearly Neandertal in its morphology.21 Tabun Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel, is one of the classic Neandertal burial sites. But the Tabun C2 mandible is more closely aligned with modern mandibles found elsewhere.22 The Krapina Rock Shelter, Croatia, is one of the most studied Neandertal burial sites. A minimum of 75 individuals are buried there. The remains are fragmentary making diagnosis difficult. However, the addition of several newly identified fragments to the Krapina A skull (now known as Krapina 1) reveals it to be much more modern than was previously thought, indicating that it is intermediate in morphology between Neandertals and modern humans.23, 24
That Neandertals and anatomically modern humans were buried together constitutes strong evidence that they lived together, worked together, intermarried, and were accepted as members of the same family, clan, and community. The false distinction made by evolutionists today was not made by the ancients. To call the Neandertals “Cave Men” is to give a false picture of who they were and why caves were significant in their lives. The human family is a unified family. “From one man He (God) made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth ... ” (Acts 17:26).
In comparing the Neandertal burial practice with Genesis, I do not wish to imply that Abraham or his ancestors or his descendants were Neandertals. What the relationship was—if any—between the people of Genesis and the Neandertals we do not know. Young Earth Creationists tend to believe that the Neandertals were a post-Flood people. What is striking is that the burial practice of the Neandertals seems to be identical with that of the post-Flood people of Genesis.
Genesis 23:17–20 records a business transaction between Abraham and the Hittite, Ephron. Abraham wanted to purchase property in order to bury Sarah. We read:
Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.
Upon his death (Genesis 25:7–11), Abraham was buried in that same cave. In Genesis 49:29–32, Jacob instructs his sons that he, too, is to be buried in that cave where Abraham and Sarah were buried. We then learn that Jacob buried his wife, Leah there, and that Isaac and Rebekah were buried there also. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah were all buried in the cave in the field of Machpelah which Genesis 23:20 states Abraham purchased “as a burial site.” Only Sarah died in the geographic area of the cave. All of the others had to be transported some distance to be buried there, and Jacob’s body had to be brought up from Egypt. It was important then, as it is today, to be buried with family and loved ones. Certainly, if the Neandertal burial practice was similar to that of the people of Genesis, it suggests that the Neandertals were very much like us. It is not without significance that both Lazarus and Jesus were buried in caves (John 11:38; Matthew 27:60), and that this practice has continued in many cultures up to modern times.
When we bury someone we love, we often bury them with some item, some treasure, that they loved. And we almost always bury them with flowers. These items are called “grave goods.” It is claimed that the Neandertals did not have full human consciousness. That is, they did not have a sense of mortality or the possibility of immortality. A major evidence for this is the alleged lack of grave goods in Neandertal burials. Because the Upper Stone Age people often had rather elaborate grave goods, researchers have simply not noticed, or purposely ignored, that the Neandertals had grave goods—items related to their lifestyle of hunting. The following is a very small sample of grave goods from some Neandertal sites:
Although our emphasis has been upon burial, it is important to know that the Neandertals have a record of tender care for individuals before death. This has been established at Shanidar Cave, Iraq, and at the Bau de l’Aubesier Rock Shelter, France. In The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Neandertal authority Erik Trinkaus et al. write regarding the Neandertals: “These human populations therefore had achieved a level of sociocultural elaboration sufficient to maintain debilitated individuals and to provide the motivation to do so.”33 In life and death, Neandertals seem so very human.
The claim that the Neandertals were culture-thin is surprising considering the evidence now available. The Neandertals are alleged to be less than fully human because they had no glue or adhesives for hafting tools, no unequivocal art objects, no boats, canoes, or ships, no bows and arrows, no cave paintings, no domesticated animals or plants, no hooks, nets, or spears for fishing, no lamps, no metallurgy, no mortars and pestles, no musical instruments, no needles or awls for sewing, no ropes for carrying things, no sculpture, and no long distance overland trade.
The Indians of Tierra del Fuego, at the extreme southern tip of South America, were hunter-gatherers. They were considered to be among the most primitive people on earth. Ashley Montagu (Princeton University) writes that these Indians:
[They] . . . live in perhaps the worst climate in the world, a climate of bitter cold, snow, and sleet, and heavy rains a great deal of the time, yet they usually remain entirely naked. During extremely cold weather they may wear a loose cape of fur and rub their bodies with grease.34
When Charles Darwin went on his famous around-the-world voyage, he visited the Fuegians. In his fascinating work, The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin describes Fuegian life and culture.35 It is difficult to compare people living in historic times with people we know only from fossils and cultural remains. Nevertheless, a strong case could be made that the cultural inventory of the Fuegians was less complex and extensive than was the cultural inventory of the Neandertals. Yet, no one considered the Fuegians to be less than fully human, except Darwin, who believed that they were too primitive (sub-human) to be evangelized. Darwin was proven wrong by missionaries who did evangelize them. In fairness to Darwin, he later admitted his mistake regarding the spiritual potential of the Fuegians.36
One of the most brutal episodes in human history was the genocide of the full-blooded Tasmanians about a century ago. The genocide was allowed because evolutionists claimed that the Tasmanians were not fully human. The reason their full humanity was doubted was because evolutionists applied the false test of culture. Jared Diamond (University of California, Los Angeles) states in his article “Ten Thousand Years of Solitude” that any anthropologist would describe the Tasmanians as “the most primitive people still alive in recent centuries.”37 Of all of the people in the world, they were considered among the least technologically advanced. Hence, they were considered less evolved than other people.
Like the Indians of Tierra del Fuego, the cultural inventory of the Tasmanians, as described by Diamond, was less complex and extensive than was the cultural inventory of the Neandertals. Yet, the Tasmanians proved that they were fully human. How did they prove it? They passed the fertility test. Although all full-blooded Tasmanians are gone, there are many Tasmanians of mixed blood today because in those early days many Caucasian men married Tasmanian women.
The following items suggest the full humanity of the Neandertals.
The lifestyle of the Neandertals can be summed up in just one word—hunting. To study the Neandertal sites with their collections of the largest game animals gives the overwhelming impression that they were occupational hunters. Fossils of large animals are found in association with Neandertal fossils at over half of the Neandertal sites.
The evidence can be summarized as follows:
Thus, it seems impossible to deny the Neandertals the reputation they so richly deserve—stunning big game hunters.
Especially stunning is that about half of the Neandertal sites that have fossil animal remains have fossils of elephants and woolly mammoths. Palaeontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga (Complutense University, Madrid) writes:
The elephant is the largest possible game animal on the face of the earth .... Beyond the physical capacity of prehistoric humans to hunt elephants, the crux of the polemic is in their mental capacity to develop and execute complex hunting strategies based on seasonally predicable conditions. Planning is powerful evidence for [the Neandertals having fully human] consciousness.38
At Schöningen, Germany, were found three fir spears, fashioned like modern javelins, cleft at one end to accommodate stone points. They are the world’s oldest throwing spears, dated by evolutionists at about 400,000 years old. They are six to seven and one-half feet long, and required powerful people to use them. It proves that there were big-game hunters at that time, and suggests a long tradition of hunting with such tools. It is presumed that the Neandertals used them.39 “If they are what they seem to be, these would be the first known weapons to incorporate two materials, in this case stone and wood. The Neanderthals almost surely used the many stone points found in Mousterian sites for the same purpose.”40 At the same site was found on a bed of black peat a fossilized horse pelvis with a wooden lance sticking out of it.41
There is a problem in the recognition of evidence for “art” among the Neandertals. The presence of art is considered a major indication of full humanity when dealing with fossil humans. Not only is other evidence regarding the full humanity of the Neandertals not given proper weight, but the evidence for art among the Neandertals has been seriously under-reported because of a subjective bias. The reason for this bias is an attempt to protect the field of paleoanthropology from the charge of racism. (The details of this very real problem are beyond the scope of this article, but are fully explained in Section III of my book, Bones of Contention, Revised edition, available from Answers in Genesis.)
This under-reporting of art among the Neandertals is confirmed by prehistorian Paul Bahn who writes regarding the attempts to make the Neandertals a separate species:
... in essence this boils down to stating that the Neanderthals were so different from ourselves that a firm line can be drawn between them and us, a view that is by no means universally held. To shore up this approach, all the growing body of evidence for “art” before 40,000 years ago is simply dismissed and ignored.42
Tools are found at most Neandertal sites. Since they are not the artistic, delicate tools that are found in the Upper Stone Age, it has been assumed that the Neandertals had not evolved mentally to the stage where they could make such tools. This criticism is absurd. The Neandertal tools are what one would expect for a hunting people. Their tools are the utensils of the butcher shop, not the sterling silver utensils of a fancy French restaurant. Many archaeologists miss the point. It is not just a fancy tool that is a work of art, any tool is a work of artistic conceptualization.
Juan Luis Arsuaga states that making a stone tool is actually a work of art or sculpture. He writes: “Purposeful chipping at a stone is like sculpture in that it requires carefully chosen target points, very accurately aimed blows, a correctly calculated angle of impact, and well-regulated force.”43
The story is told of a child who watched a sculptor take a large block of granite and over many weeks produced the statue of a man. Overcome with awe, the child asks the sculptor: “How did you know that man was in the rock?” The sculptor “knew” that the man was in the rock in the same way that the Neandertals “knew” that the tools were in the stones. Both works are the product of a mind with conceptual ability. And the evidence shows that the Neandertals had such ability.
The Neandertals also had other works of art. A few of them are:
Bone tools are considered to be more sophisticated than stone tools. It is not unusual to read anthropologists who claim that the Neandertals were too primitive to have made bone tools. These anthropologists have not done their homework. Besides the mention of bone jewelry at Arcy-sur-Cure, France, under “Art,” Number B (1.) above, the scientific literature records bone tools at the following sites:
The ability to allocate specific areas for living, working, trash, and other purposes is considered to be a characteristic of a fully developed human mind. For some reason, this mental and conceptual ability by the Neandertals has been questioned. The scientific literature shows that the Neandertals clearly had this ability.
The Neandertal site at Umm el Tlel, Syria, is dated at about 42,500 years of age.63 The site contains Mousterian tools hafted with bitumen at very high temperatures. Prior to this, the earliest hafted tools were dated at about 10,000 years of age. The Nature report continues: “These new data suggest that Palaeolithic people had greater technical ability than previously thought, as they were able to use different materials to produce tools.”64 Simon Holdaway (La Trobe University, Australia) states: “... evidence for hafting in the Middle Palaeolithic may indicate that more complex multi-component forms existed earlier, so changing our perceptions of the relationships between the two periods.”65 That is a remarkable statement. Just a few years ago, we were repeatedly told that the Neandertals had no adhesives.
The evidence suggests that we need to rethink our attitude toward the Neandertals. All that we could reasonably expect from the fossil and archaeological records supports the full humanity of the Neandertals, our worthy ancestors.
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