Valley of the Neanderthals

Neanderthal valley was a small valley (about 700metres long) of river Dssel in the German country of European continent. The valley was named in memory of a German Calvinist, poet and teacher, Joachim Neander who lived between 1650 and 1680 and wrote his hymns as he walked through the valley (Jestice 2009 2). Archaeological archives of the 19th century indicate that before the 1850s the Neander valley was composed of cave shelters of different sizes.

In August of 1856, at the Feldhofer cave shelter of Neander valley, near the city of Dsseldorf some bones (thought to belong to a cave bear) were discovered by quarry workers amidst the lime quarry they were working on. The bones were given to a local school teacher Johann Karl Fuhlrott (1803-1877) who doubled up as an amateur naturalist.   After a thorough examination and consultation with anatomist Hermann Scaaffhausen (1816-1893), they confirmed they were the bones of ac archaic human being. In 1857 Fuhlrott and Scaaffhausen announced their discovery (Jestice 2009 3). Three weeks after the discovery Fuhrott went to investigate the site but the remaining material was buried deep in the clay. He however managed to collects some bone materials which included two femora, a skull cap and part of the ilium, some rib fragments, three right arm bones and two left arm bones.

This discovery is considered to be the beginning of paleoanthropology (a scientific discipline dealing with the study of human evolution). Fuhrott indicated that, since the bones were not considered important at the time of discovery, (Jestice, 2009) no great care was taken during the quarrying process and the labourers (at his request) only collected large bones that could be easily identified.

Feldhofer cave, as the valley was initially known, was in a limestone gorge and measured approximately 3 metres in height by 3 metres in width by 5 metres in length an had an approximately 1 metre long opening 20 metres from the floor of the valley. The cave was later destroyed by extensive quarrying which broadened the valley without any geological or scientific analysis. According to Schmitz by the year 1900, the position of the valley was forgotten (2000162).

The discovery and the publishing of Darwins origin of Species theory three years later opened the debate on the validity of the existence of early man and species relation (Schmitz 2000111). The authenticity of the Neanderthal bones was later disputed by a German scientist Virchow Rudolf (1821-1902). Through craniometry (scientific method of measuring human bones) he concluded they were the bones of a normal human being who had suffered rickets in childhood and arthritis in their adult life and had probably crawled into the cave to die (Jestice 2009 6). He explained the deep facial brow to be a result of farrowing due to pain and powerful blows on the head.

Subsequent investigations have confirmed the Neanderthal bones to be of ancient man, the Neanderthal man, named after the valley where the bones were dug from. Jestice indicates that William king (1809- 1886) an English geologist was the first to propose the Neanderthal material belonged to a different ancient human being previously unknown to humans he was the first to use the term Homo Neanderthalensis (20097).  Following the discovery at least 62 more Neanderthal samples have been unearthed and are believed to belong to three distinct Neanderthal individuals.

Subsequent excavations
The Neanderthal valley discovery brought about the debate of whether the Neanderthal man played any role in the evolution history.  Scientists and archaeologists agreed that subsequent excavations of the Feldhofer caves were necessary. Although it had been largely thought that the remaining pieces of the Neanderthal man from the Neander cave were dumped nearby, attempts to determine the exact location were unfruitful for almost one century. In 1997 archaeologists Schmits and Jrgen Thissen, through careful archival examination were able to determine the probable site of these remains and excavations commenced (Moravsk 2004 293). The excavations were conducted by Rheinisches Amt fr under the supervision of Schmitz and Jrgen. It was discovered that the southern part of the valley was still intact and cave residues were positioned adjacent to this remains. Proper excavations and examinations yielded some Pleistocene faunal remnants, Paleolithic artefacts and 24 pieces of human bone from the clay residues of the cave (Moravsk 2004 323). Confirmations that these bone fragments belonged to Neanderthal valley remains was when one piece was fitted perfectly on the left lateral femoral condyle. Additional excavations in the year 2000 yielded much larger skeletal fragments, artifacts and a series of fauna (Jestice 20095). Two cranial pieces were found to fit the original Neanderthal calotte exactly.

The excavations of 1997 and 2000 yielded greatly fragmented bones than those found in 1856 which is thought to be caused by the shattering when they were thrown down the cave (Jestice 2009 65). The fragments have been refitted to form more complete elements. Debate is still on whether the bones belong to the Neanderthal man. Six teeth and seven skull fragments have been identified but none resembles the preserved fragments of Neanderthal 1.Two cranial fragments and a fragment of the right temporal bone perfectly fit the skeletal outline of Neanderthal 1. The cranial fragment exhibited some distinct Neanderthal features which included, a slanting zygomaticoalveolar periphery, noticeably distended maxillary sinuses, marked muscle attachment for the temporalis muscles, features that are distinct to Neanderthal 1.
It was found that their molars and premolars resembled those of modern man and their chewing muscles and cheek region were shrunk. According to Schmitz (200038) their enlarged canine and incisor teeth indicated continued use as a third hand.

Significance of the Findings
Bones found in the valley have been estimated to be 40,000 and 50,000 years old. Investigations of the archaeological materials found at the site, describes the Neanderthals as having brains that were 10 larger than that of the modern man. They were about 1.6m tall and of short robust build with thick noses for warming the cold air during the ice age period (Jestice 2009 52) and reduced skin surface. Their thick build is thought to be a result of carrying heavy loads with less or no strain. They had thick skulls with prominent brows and a longer occipital bun protruding towards the end. It has also been discovered that they communicated by use of speech, courtesy of the hyoid bones that was excavated at the Neanderthal valley (Schmitz 2000 195). Anthropologists have linked the unique facial structures of the Neanderthals to be a result of evolution which slowly reshapes human morphology. Questionable studies have concluded that the Neanderthals used to burry their dead and in some cases laying flowers on the graves (suggesting religion). Some skeletal bones with signs of injury also suggest the Neanderthals cared for their sick suggestion a strong social cohesion.

Their large brains suggest they lived in a cold climate probably Northern Europe. They covered their bodies with animal skin. Archaeologists suggest the wearing out of their teeth to be a result of constant use to soften the animal skins. Neanderthal had the knowledge of fire and sat around it in their cave shelters for warmth. Numerous fracture found on the Neanderthal bones suggests they lived rough lives. From their archaeological records it is inferred that the Neanderthals lived in small groups, they were migratory but oftenly returned to their original shelters. This has been deduced from the size of their shelters which are small and the deepness of the remains at the site. Some of the tools they used included simple wood spears, broad flakes and some chipped stone tools (Jestice 200952).

The presence of paleolithic tools at the Neander valley together with genetic analysis and carbon dating of human bone fragments found at the area, establishes a near complete context of Neanderthal 1. The overall image indicates that they shared a number of characteristics with the modern man their foraging characteristics were however more primitive compared to those of a modern hunter gatherer necessitating stronger muscles.

Studies are still underway to determine the cause of their extinction and the rise of Homo sapiens as the dominant humans. Though it is not clear whether the issue is genetic or anthropological. Fossils indicate modern man evolution and spread, displaced and absorbed the Neanderthals. Subsequently their absorption made a significant genetic contribution to modern humans which are evident from the similarities found in their DNA. According to DNA sequencing the Neanderthals are the only anatomically closely related relative to modern man. It would therefore be correct to conclude that the Neanderthal was a real human and a product of his own environment. It was the spread of modern man that replaced their archaic features which were outdated by more sophisticated cultural behaviour and technologies.


Отправить комментарий