Monday, November 21, 2011

The Mind of Neandertals

Nature has a review of a book called How To Think Like a Neandertal by Thomas Wynn and Frederick Coolidge. Curiously, the authors spell “Neandertal” correctly but the Nature editors do not. They still spell it the old way, with the “h” in it. The Germans dropped that over a hundred years ago. Clive Gamble writes:
Wynn and Coolidge conclude that today, Neanderthals would be commercial fishermen or mechanics, based on their enormous strength and ability to learn the motor procedures needed. Their capacity for empathy might even have made them competent physicians, the authors say, although a lack of mathematical ability means that they would never have been able to graduate from medical school. Neanderthals would also make excellent army grunts, with their high levels of pain tolerance, and would be good tacticians in small combat units. They would never rewrite the tactical manual — although tearing it up, however thick, would not be a problem.
Without having read the book (and I plan to), it is difficult for me to accept that we could know these sorts of things based on the fossil record that we have. I am also skeptical of the limitations that are attributed to Neandertals. Once again, your life would be different if you lived in the U.S. when the tundra line extended into southern Ohio and there was no Canada. I would also like to know how they have figured out that Neandertals liked “slapstick humor.”

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1 comment:

  1. I had exactly the same reaction reading that paragraph: "What? How can you possibly know these things? Math? An unusual capacity for empathy?