Today we have seen that much of what exists in the popular concept of Neanderthals – as dim, stooped, hairy and primitive – is largely down to a combination of Victorian period biases in how people viewed one another (and themselves) as well as an error made in the first reconstructions of Neanderthal skeletons. While we know that this popular image of Neanderthals is wrong, it can also be hard to move away from something that we as human societies have had with us for so long.
Instead of the hairy and primitive animal shown in the above and other pictures, we have seen that Neanderthals looked a lot like us. They were smart and capable, just like we are. They made good use of the landscapes around where they lived, and chose their home bases with care. They invented new technologies for making composite tools, and for keeping themselves warm. Neanderthals even seem to have made decorations for themselves or their clothing, and to have used pigments to add colour to themselves and their possessions. They may even have used these pigments to make paintings on the walls of caves.
Neanderthals even buried their dead. This was not a practice which was restricted to a few Neanderthals living in only one region, but is something which we see repeatedly across the Near East and Europe. This is something which we have seen repeatedly at Shanidar cave, where many Neanderthal burials have been found. At least one of which burials may have had flowers and other plants buried with them as grave goods.
Neanderthals may also have made music, as is suggested by the discovery of a small flute-like instrument from the site of Divje Babe in Slovenia. While small and currntly broken, this ‘flute’ makes beautiful music.
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