I took one anthropology course in university, barely passed it, and then decided to specialize in English literature. But I’ve always remained fascinated by early humans and exotic groups of people. So I devoured How to Think Like a Neandertal almost at one sitting. I was disappointed at the end of the book because I raced through it so quickly.
This book by two professors, one of anthropology (Thomas Wynn) and the other of psychology (Frederick L. Coolidge), aims to explain how our evolutionary cousins, the extinct Neandertals, lived and thought. It’s amazing how much can be deduced by expert examination of archaeological finds. They appear to have lived in small social groups, were capable of speech, but had no social use of fire and so no narrative tradition. Conversation and story telling tends to go with sitting around a fire, but Neandertals didn’t have central fires to sit around. Their fires were small, at the back of caves, used for cooking.
Marks on Neandertal bones reveal that they hunted large animals on foot with hand-held thrusting spears, not throwing spears. Severe injuries were common but not always fatal, indicating that the injured were cared for by others. They also showed some slight attention to their dead, although little regard to their bones. There is evidence that they practised cannibalism, likely because of hunger.
This book is accessible though scholarly. The style is conversational and shares thought experiments that led to some of the authors’ conclusions. This is a fascinating close look at a lost people on the evolutionary ladder. I loved it.
Has anybody read the Clan of the Cave Bear series? What did you think of it?