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03 August 2013

'How to Think Like a Neandertal' by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge

The only "pure" humans around here come from Africa which really ought to teach some people a lesson

This book states that Europeans have 1-4% Neandertal genes, which would explain a lot... And the three children sitting behind me at this cafe may have more.  In any case, this book is all about getting rid of these kind of prejudices.  It tries to give us, non-scientific readers, an idea of what Neandertals were thinking while pursuing mammoths.  This book keeps its promise and delivers a lot more.

The authors, together, study and write about something called paleoanthropology.  Thomas Wynn is an archaeologist and Frederick L. Coolidge is a psychologist.  Paleoanthropology sounds cool but vaguely reminds me of a certain crime + science tv show... In any case, I looked up paleoanthropology (I love this word).  It is the study of the origins of current humans using fossils, tools etc...  Then I read this book.  I found it fascinating as it opened my eyes to how anthropologists and archeologists draw conclusions about civilizations and cultures in the distant past.  I do not mean the obvious ways, you know, with a shovel, a brush, a whip and a cool hat.  The most exciting aspect for this reader was how they tried to get rid of personal biases... and we all have biases about Neandertals.  They found ways of comparing, contrasting and measuring ... thought... without tainting it with our own ideas of intelligence and thought.

As a contrast let me point out all those 19th century and early 20th century gentlemen who dug up most of Italy, Greece, Turkey, northern Africa and Arabia.  They had ideas of what constituted intelligence and applied it accordingly.  If they thought that Greek culture was advanced then they (or we) were the natural descendants and improvements on the originals...  If a culture was deemed backward, (non Christian, too Eastern or too strange) then it was labeled savage, barbaric and belittled in writing and in history.  Something similar happened to Neandertals in common culture.

Neandertals were not so different from us and the authors prove it.  Moreover, I can follow the explanations, tests, evidence and logic.  I am excited.  I am excited because I feel a door has opened on a side of ourselves (yes I admit it, but not more than 1%, probably) that is often denied. To know how Neandertals thought brings us closer to understanding how we think.  Philosophy, science and divinity come closer together.  If you are the kind of person that gets excited when 6000 year old funeral mounds are discovered or new pyramids are found in distant deserts then this is also a book for you.  Those poor souls out there breathing dust and acquiring wrinkles are not making it up as they go along.  'How to Think Like a Neandertal' shows you not just what the Neandertals were thinking, but ironically, what the scientists are thinking.  By the way, Asians also have Neandertal genes.  The only "pure" humans around here come from Africa which really ought to teach some people a lesson... if those were the kinds of people that read these books...

Thomas Wynn  
Frederick L. Coolidge 
ISBN: 9780199742820 

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