Was the Neanderthal man really some kind of ape man?
The first Neanderthal skull was discovered in Gibraltar in 1848. Eight years later the “original” Neanderthal man was discovered in a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf in Germany (“Neanderthal” literally means “Neander’s Valley”). The Neander Valley in turn was named after Joachim Neander, a 17th century German theologian who taught Latin in nearby Düsseldorf and preached sermons in the valley which later came to bear his name.
Three years after the Neander Valley discovery, Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species in which he proposed that all life descended from a common ancestor. This includes humans who were thought to have evolved from some sort of ape-like ancestor. The Neanderthal man was subsequently reinterpreted by the scientists of the 19th century who came to see him as a sort of ape-man, an evolutionary link between man and ape. This view persisted into the 20th century.
The “Old Man of La Chapelle-aux-Saints,” originally reconstructed by the famous 19th century French paleontologist Pierre Marcellin Boule, was the first nearly complete Neanderthal man skeleton discovered in the modern era. The “Old Man” had a severely curved spine. This combined with his large browridge and his low-vaulted cranium gave him a hunched over ape-man-like appearance. It was later determined that the Old Man suffered from a deforming bone disease.
In the mid 1950’s American anatomists William Straus and A. J. Cave reexamined the Old Man of La Chapelle-aux-Saints. It was their conclusion that “if he could be reincarnated and placed in a New York subway provided he were bathed, shaved, and dressed in modern clothing it is doubtful whether he would attract any more attention that some of its other denizens” (Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 32, pp. 348–63, December).
The anatomical peculiarities of the Neanderthal men are known to exist within the normal boundaries of human variation potential. In other words, the Neanderthals were just regular humans who looked a little different than you and I do today (similar to how Australian aborigines look significantly different than Native American Indians and yet they are all human).
The Neanderthals were known to bury their dead (whose bodies they covered in flowers), they used tools, worked with animal hides, took care of each other and generally acted like humans act. There is no indication that they were the brutish beasts they are seen as by many today. Their brain cavity was actually much larger than the average brain today.
It appears that many of the Neanderthals suffered from a Vitamin D deficiency. This caused their bones to grow soft and deformed. This has contributed the popular hunched-over ape-man misconception. The Vitamin D deficiency may simply be indicative of the era in which they lived. Vitamin D comes from fish oils and dairy products and is produced in the body when the skin is exposed to the sun. The Neanderthals obviously had a very poor diet. In addition to this, they appear to have spent much of their time taking shelter in caves. It is believed by many scholars that the Neanderthals lived during an Ice Age. This would explain their poor diets and lack of exposure to the sun. So, while the ape-man perspective has been shown to be false, Neanderthal man was certainly a caveman in the true sense of the word.
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