Homo Sapiens is currently the dominant human species on earth. This was, however, not always the case. For 200,000 years our closest cousins, the Neanderthal, dominated Europe.
Back in 1993 I backpacked around China and visited the historical city of Xian. I shared a dorm with an Australian who introduced herself as being an archaeologist. We needed to get some passport photographs and when she saw mine exclaimed:
You might think I was insulted, but in fact I am proud to be associated with the earliest Europeans. For most people, when we say Neanderthal we think about brutish creatures, somewhere between apes and humans; dragging their wives by the hair into their cave and beating other males with a club,
Anthropologist John Hawks believes that we should give them a bit more credit. Neanderthal humans were not as primitive as the popular image might suggest. They had the same brain size as us, but smaller bodies. Archaeological evidence points towards a sophisticated culture. Manganese oxide rocks with artificial wear and tear found in caves in Europe point towards art, as this material can be used as a pigment. Also, Neanderthal stone tools were no less advanced then the tools made by the Homo Sapiens contemporary to the Neanderthal. This shows that Neanderthals were not primitive sub-humans, but capable of abstract thought.
Erik Trinkaus argues that early European humans exhibit morphological aspects that are distinctive Neanderthal traits. There are also some indications in genetic material found in the archaeological record. Some scientists have posited a hyberdisation of early Homo Sapiens with Neanderthal. The interbreeding between these two species of man could have accelerated evolution as diversity is the engine of natural selection. Scientists of the Neanderthal Genome Project have even suggested that the ability to use language was passed on from Neanderthal to modern Homo Sapiens.
I am glad that current research shows that we need to reconsider the way we see Neanderthal and thus I can say:
I am proud to be a Neanderthal.