You probably think you know the Neanderthals. We’ve all been hearing about them since we were kids, after all. They were all over the comics; they were in museum dioramas and on cartoons. They were always cast as mammoth-eating, cave-dwelling dimwits—nasty brutes, in other words. You probably also learned that they died off because they couldn’t keep pace with us, Homo sapiens, their svelter, savvier superiors.
That’s story we had long been told anyhow. But, over the past few decades, there’s been a slow-moving sea change—a revolution in how archaeologists understand our closest cousins. For this episode I talked to Dr. Rebecca Wragg Sykes about this revolution. She is a Neanderthal specialist and the author of the new book Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art.
Rebecca and I discuss the new picture of Neanderthals emerging from the latest archaeological research. We talk about where they lived, what they ate, the tools and clothing they made. We talk about the evidence that they had a considerable degree of cognitive sophistication and—very possibly—an aesthetic sense. Once we put all this together—and let the new picture come into focus—the gap long thought to separate them from us from them starts to close. And this makes the question of why they vanished about 40 thousand years ago all the more puzzling.
I really hope you enjoy this one—I certainly did. And if you do, I definitely encourage you to check out Kindred!