Are We the Last Neanderthals?

The Neanderthals are the most misunderstood of our ancestors. We have done a lot to distance ourselves from them, painting them as inferior and unintelligent. But as John Hawks highlights in his talk “Are We the Last Neanderthals?”, we may share with our unattractive ancestors than we’d like to think. Perhaps the most interesting feature present in humans and Neanderthals is the capacity for imagination, the ability to create objects that aren’t present in nature. For example, the Neanderthals were experimenting with projectile weaponry, something that was not present in any of the animals they were exposed to or in the environment they existed in, this was an idea that was completely novel to them. This is analogous to the invention of the wheel, a mechanisms that is also not present in nature, that was a result of human creativity and imagination. Additionally, there is evidence that proves the Neanderthals took care of older members of their society, a feature common to humans as well. This information hints at the fact that Neanderthals were not only important in the biological evolution of humans, but in the intellectual and cultural development of humans as well. Our misrepresentation of Neanderthals relates to a recurring message in our biology class, that there is no such thing as a “perfect organism”. Have Homo sapiens gone too far in their displays of “species supremacy”? As we eradicate other species and throw off the ecological balance of many communities, is it time for us to reconsider our outlook on the world? The biologist and the scientist maybe aware of man’s humble position in the universe, but this information is not being communicated to the public properly. Events like the Chicago Humanities Festival help remind people of our fleeting but impactful existence on Earth and help to create a more educated populace, reminding us of our role as the last members of the Homo genus.

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