Doctor, Doctor! I have great news! That malevolent earworm has subsided. I don't have to worry 24/7 about what he is stealing, what he is breaking. I have more time for other things -- like reading.
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We can’t get enough of our long-lost neighbors. At least, I can’t. And the growing study of Neanderthals tells me this is a collective curiosity.
With a flash of recognition, we see something of ourselves in them, as they tried to survive,
As the earth thaws, as our science grows, we are learning more about the people who co-existed with “us” until about 40,000 years ago.
Many “humans” stare at renderings of what Neanderthals may have looked like, based on recent findings of Neanderthal bones. Sometimes the adults are pictured holding a child, just like us.
The latest source of my fascination is a book, “Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art,” by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, published by Bloomsburg Sigma in November, and already greedily devoured by this reader.
The more I read, the more my admiration grows for Neanderthals, named for one of the early discoveries in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, Germany. Sykes describes in great detail how they chiseled tools out of rocks, knowing what they were doing, and how they made spears and arrows to hunt the fat-laden animals that would sustain them.
Sykes details how these Neanderthals migrated with the seasons and shifts in climate, how they seemed to know, to remember, where the water was, where hiding places were, where they could cook, congregate, tend to their tools and garments, care for children, and sometimes bury their dead.
Other people existed in the same regions – Homo sapiens up from Africa, Denisovans across Asia, both groups encountering Neanderthals as they made their last stand in southern Europe.
Sykes saves the best part for the end – the mystery that has made Neanderthals an appealing subject.
Married, with two young daughters, living in mid-Wales, Sykes helps the reader understand a people that got squeezed out, many perishing in the caves and crannies of Spain and France.
As we unworthy survivors pollute the only world we have, Sykes points out one benefit of our pollution: Soon we will discover more Neanderthal bodies emerging from the melting permafrost.
Twelve hours after I read her prophesy, I found a recent story about an ancient baby wolf that has been found intact in the Yukon.
Before we expire, we may understand more about our complex ancestors as they roamed the earth, at least three separate species, standing on two legs, encountering each other on their search for food and shelter and, when they got up close, sometimes doing what came naturally.
I don’t think I am giving away too much to reveal Sykes’ final words, which confirmed to me the current aura of these people who were “just like us.” Sykes’ penultimate chapter ends:
“Neanderthal. Human. Kindred.”
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(my previous post on Neanderthals)
(The recent NYT review of Sykes’ book)
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.