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Wednesday, 24 July 2024, 21:46 (09:46 PM) CDT, day 206 of 2024

Prehistoric Cultures

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Dates and Times to Remember 

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Thursday, 25 July 2024, 02:46 (02:46 AM) GMT, day 207 of 2024
. . . in History 
  . . . in Headlines

      Babel Fish Translation 
~ translate this page

OWL logo, Online Writing Lab, Purdue University.

Neanderthal man: Interbreeding debate continues.

"Neandertal man:
Interbreeding debate

"Two old ergaster in the arid environment of Africa 1.5 million years ago."

"Two old ergaster in the arid environment of Africa 1.5 million years ago."

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Before We
Ruled the Earth:

Life and Death
in the Ice Age

Terms / Concepts Notes
Cultures Sites Individuals Resources

"Hunt or be Hunted"
"Mastering the Beasts


Homo erectus chart

Homo sapiens chart


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"Gibraltar I: Reconstruction of a ca. four-year-old Neandertal."
"Gibraltar I:
Reconstruction of a
. four-year-old


Homo erectus.

Homo erectus



!Kung San Hunters
!Kung San Hunters

"Follow the evolution of early humans as they battle man-eating [sic.] beasts, harsh environments and each other in the ultimate quest for world domination. Homo erectus makes quick work of the Giant Steppe Bison, but can he withstand the onslaught of Cro-Magnon man? In this world, there's only one rule – adapt or die!" -- Discovery Channel

"For 300,000 years, hunting - and being hunted - was a way of life that defined humankind. Using dramatic reenactments that integrate computer animations of species long extinct, this series tells the story of how hominids and early humans prevailed over both the elements and their competition. Helpful timelines and fascinating 'how we know what we know' segments highlight key archaeological digs and fossil records" -- Discovery Channel

Cultures Individuals Resources
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Episode 1: "Hunt or Be Hunted"
49 min., DVD 94, 2003

"Begin in prehistoric Africa – 1.7 million years ago – where primitive humans like Homo ergaster foraged for food among the underbrush, always on the run from the original king of the jungle – the Sabretooth cat. Over time, watch as ergaster develops simple tools, begins to communicate and even learns to repel his enemies with fire."

"Fast-forward a million years and witness Homo erectus' improved ability with fire. Watch as these crafty humans use huge, flaming branches to drive a herd of Giant Irish Elk right off a cliff. It seems like a perfectly executed hunt . . . until the neglected fire burns out of control, ruining the day's spoils."

"In fact, it's not until the rise of the Neanderthals that fire is mastered. But, by then, another race has appeared on the scene – the Cro-Magnons! As environmental conditions change, the Cro-Magnons adapt and survive, while the Neanderthals' numbers noticeably dwindle." -- Discovery Channel

Terms / Concepts Notes
Cultures Sites Individuals Resources

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Episode 2: "Mastering the Beasts"
49 min., DVD 101, 2003

"By the Pleistocene era, the Cro-Magnons had developed the power of speech, reasoning skills and even a belief in the afterlife. Yet, a dramatic recreation of a ritual battle, in which an apprentice shaman struggles to prove himself against a powerful prehistoric bull, shows how much of their daily lives were still rooted in violence."

"As the Cro-Magnons' numbers grew, they proceeded to America – by way of a treacherous land bridge leading to Alaska. Join three, desperate Cro-Magnon women as they trek across the tundra in search of food and shelter and marvel at how they use their burgeoning ingenuity to survive harsh elements, extreme hunger and the company of Woolly Mammoths."

"Learn how the sophisticated weaponry of North America's Paleo-Indians allowed them to flourish among the waning mega-fauna like the Giant Ground Sloth. Experience the thrill of the hunt when two small bands of Paleo-Indians come together for a ritual buffalo kill, driving hundreds of buffalo off a cliff in a massive slaughter – much like Homo erectus before them." -- Discovery Channel

Terms / Concepts Notes
Cultures Sites Individuals Resources

Terms / Concepts / Features

  • hominids

  • Homo ergaster (Kenya)

    • 1.9 mya early African "Homo erectus"

    • some consider Homo erectus later populations, mainly in Asia

    • e.g., "Turkana Boy"

      • KNM WT 15000
      • a nearly complete skeleton
      • 1.6 mya

  • scavaging was likely an important activity that preceeded hunting

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  • Neandertals

  • "Early Modern Man" aka Cro-Magnon aka "Anatomical Modern"

  • woolly mammoth, giant cave bear, lions, wolves, wolverines, Asian wild dogs, and other carnivores like big cats (, sabre tooth cats, leopards . . .) were important animals in Neandertal life

  • ice age

    • pleistocene

    • the time since the end of the last major glacial epoch, or "ice age" = the holocene

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  • used "thrusting tools"

    • they had large, heavy spears

      • not thrown

        • "they must lunge and jab"

    • "they had no real long-range weapons"

    • the Neandertal had to kill animals in close quarters, which was dangerous

      • most like modern-day rodeo riders

  • Mousterian -- the tradition / period of Neandertals

  • Acheulian hand axes important from Homo erectus times onward

    • 1.6 mya
    • in Europe and Africa


  • Timeline

    • "Little Ice Age" : 1600s, 1700s, 1800s

    • The most recent Neandertal = ca. 26,000 ybp ??

    • About 35,000 ypb the Neandertals disappeared so suddenly; this is the "Neandertal Problem"

    • About 40,000 ybp "a new human type [Cro-magnon] began to spread across Europe"

      • 30,000 - 35,000 ybp modern humans went through a "rapid cultural explosion"

    • ca. 130,000 ybp the earth was cooling rapidly

    • It is thought that "modern man" began to leave the African continent between 150,000 and 200,000 ybp

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  • Note the Neandertals' physical (biological) and cultural (learned) adjustment to cold climates

    • physical adaptations

      • Allen's Rule

      • Bergman's Rule

      • Neandertal burned a huge number of calories; they burned twice the calories of the laborer today

    • cultural adaptations

      • fire

        • Fire was the center of Neandertal life. It held the group together

          • Louis Binford: Neanderthals made inefficient use of fire. They also didn't plan ahead and take advantage of predictable events (like a salmon run). They were exploiting the environment "on an encounter basis" rather than on "a tactical one."

      • clothing

        • used skins for clothing

          • Neandertal worn-down teeth indicate that they may have "tanned" leather by chewing on it

      • shelter

      • tools

      • used medical plants in order to cure their own people

      • did surgery

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  • The Neandertal average group was "about a dozen people

    • there were seldom over twenty"

      • we know from their high dependence on tortoises (given the tortoises' high sensitivity to overexploitation) that the populations were small

  • Ice Age

    • The Neandertals were "ice age specialists." But it is also said that the Neandertals were "generalists, not specialists" in the sense that "everyone had to know how to do every thing"

    • There was a 15 to 20 degree change in world temperatures in 20 years

      • A change of a degree or two during a time span of 20 years would be considered a lot
      • And about ca. 35,000 ybp there was an increase in the cold of 5 - 6 degrees F.
      • and there was less tree growth
  • During Neandertal times the North Sea was a dry plain
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  • Excavations have uncovered several Neandertal cemeteries

    • The graves prove that the Neandertals dealt consciously with the notion of death

    • But some argue that this burial practice doesn't in itself prove that the Neandertals had spirituality or religion

    • Others suggest that burial suggest spirituality, and that suggests complex thought, and that suggest the presence of a language like we know it

    • Erik Trinkaus: But there was concern for family. They were burying their dead, for example

      • Abstract thought requires words (language)

  • They had music (flute)

    • bone of a bear, from Croatia

  • Neandertal also cared for the sick and aged

    • The individual from Shanidar appears as Creb, "the Clan's Mog-ur, or magician," the "most revered holy man of all of the clans," in Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear series

    • "There is no doubt that they were a social group that did take care of their members." (Iraq)

  • Neandertal "diagnostics": low forehead, high brow ridges, large nasal opening, prognathasm, recessed chin, and "teardrop shaped head"

    • Neandertal brains, on average, are larger than ours today, but that doesn't mean they were more intelligent than we are
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  • Neandertals also seemed to have an unusual relationship between men and women

    • The men and women may have led mostly separate lives, with men bringing few things back to the cave that didn't need processing of some sort

    • there may not have been much concern for family

  • Neandertals did not have speech abilities like modern humans

    • hyoid bone -- bone situated at the base of the tongue
  • The skull is missing from the Neandertal in Kebara Cave. Could this be "like a Catholic relic?"

  • St. Caesare, 36,000 ybp, one of the last of the Neandertals, had a wolf tooth ornament
  • Problems include:

    1. The "Neandertal Problem" is about why the Neandertals disappeared so suddenly about 35,000 ypb

      • This probably relates to the fact that the Neandertals were very specialized to exploit a specific ecological niche

      • 25 - 30 people can not live by themselves

        • One must have at least 250 participating in the same mating system, "Otherwise you are doomed."

    2. Are they a separate species, or are they a variety of Homo sapiens?

    1. Did they interbreed with the Cro-Magnon?

      • Near Amud Cave in Israel there are caves with burials suggesting a relationship between Homo sapiens sapiens and Neandertal

      • In Europe, Neandertal and Homo sapiens sapiens occupied the same area for at least 10,000 years, 50,000 years in the Mideast

        • We do have examples of Homo sapiens sapiens and Neandertal from the cave

        • The cave was lived in for 150,000 years

          • 40% of the identifiable bones are from tortoises
          • we know from their high dependence on tortoises (given the tortoises' high sensitivity to overexploitation) that the populations were small
            • Their average group was "about a dozen people; there were seldom more than twenty

      • If so, are any Neandertals ancestral to any contemporary humans?

    1. Did the Neandertals speak a language?

      • Paul Mellars thinks they had a "proto-language," a language of a 2-year-old child


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  • Germany

    • Neander Valley (1856)
      • The Neander-tal in 19th century German

  • France

    • 50,000 ybp
    • "only a few thousand Neandertals inhabited Southern France"
    • cave dwellers
    • 85% of their diet was meat (via bone nitrogen analysis)
    • tools
      • bi-face
      • scrapers
      • burins
    • Dordogne Valley
    • La Ferrassie
    • Lascaux
    • La Chapelle-aux-Saints ("The Old Man")
      • red pigment suggest intentional burial
      • "first to leave such evidence of caring"
    • Combe Grenal
    • Le Moustier ("Mousterian")
    • Cap Blanc
    • St. Caesar, SW France
    • Castelle Mayo -- SW France

  • England

    • Boxgrove
      • 500,000 ybp

  • Israel

  • Gibraltar

    • 1848
    • 30,000 ybp

  • Iraq

  • Belgium

    • Spy (896)

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  • Johan Karl Fuhlrott
  • Marcellan Boule
  • The "Old Man" of La Chappelle-aux-Saints (France)

Publications / Bibliography

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