Neanderthal reflexes:
I have always been rather a fan of the Neanderthal folk.  I thought I might be able to handle their way of living.  Certainly the society I live in now leaves me bewildered.  On the other hand at time I am considering an ancient society I wonder not what great wisdom they had but what folly wiped them out and whether it threatens us too. 

One of my vices is to read ATLANTIS RISING; it is one thing I can read without feeling I ought to take notes.  But a recent article breaks that rule.  (Martin Ruggles The Riddle of Lost Civilization, the Case for Advanced Neanderthals ATLANTIS RISING no. 101 September/October, 2013 page 42)  What the article points out that is news to me is that apparently Neanderthals did representational painting on cave walls, and that further more when they did pictures of moving animals the legs were in plausible positions somewhat more than half the time.  This contrasts with pictures done by artists in the 1880’s who got it wrong about 80% of the time, and that dismal score was earned after Eadweard James Muybridge did his photographic studies of moving animals in the 1870’s.  Hmm.

Neanderthals had bigger brains than do we, and I have always assumed that this was because of having a bigger cerebellum.  When we studied neuroanatomy in medical school the cerebellum turned out to be a switching arrangement for motor nerves.  When you reach for a pencil you only think, “Hand, grab pencil,” but your whole body acts as a unit, changing such things as the tone of your great trunk muscles and the pressure your toes are exerting on the floor.  Touch a switch and the whole acceleration-deceleration-aiming-balance problem is handled so smoothly for you that you don’t even notice that anything unusual has happened.  So I am quite ready to accept that Neanderthals could actually see the legs of a running animal in real time about as well as we can see one standing.  If you ever find yourself in a ping pong game with a Neanderthal, do not expect to win.

So far as I know there has never been any demonstration of violence among Neanderthals, certainly not of war.  I suspect they just did not make anything of extended family; once the nuclear family was recognized everybody else was the same.  And in their thinly spread population that worked because there were just not enough strangers for there to be a problem.  They thrived longer than we have thrived or are likely to continue to thrive.  Their day ended, I suspect, with the advent of us moderns with our more innovative exploitation of the environment leading to higher population densities.  Now there were enough strangers for there to be a problem.  Moderns have been able to find social structures that can survive that.  The Neanderthal never did.

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