August 3, 1908 The Old Man of La Chappelle

This wasn’t an “old man” by our standards.  The skeleton is currently estimated to have been that of a man between 25 and 40 years, demonstrating the Hobbesian adage that life was indeed once “Nasty, Brutish and Short”.

In the 17th century, German Reformed Church teacher and hymn writer Joachim Neander enjoyed hiking a certain valley outside of Düsseldorf.  Neander found the beauty of nature inspirational, clearing the writer’s mind and inspiring verses like “See how God this rolling globe/swathes with beauty as a robe…Forests, fields, and living things/each its Master’s glory sings.”

The theologian contracted tuberculosis and died in his thirtieth year but lived on in a way, in the valley which came to bear his name.  Some 200 years later and three years before Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, workers quarrying Neander Valley limestone discovered an unusual skull.  This was no ordinary head, elongated and nearly chinless as it was, with heavy ridges over the eyes.  Heavy bones found alongside fitted together, albeit oddly.

From top, clockwise:  a) Neander Valley by Friedrich Wilhelm Schreiner, oil on cardboard, 1855, b) original bones discovered the following year, and c)Artist’s conception of what he looked like, H/T Artist: Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions

Archaeological science had much to learn in 1856.  Perhaps future historians and scientists will look back at our time, and say the same of us.  At the time, even to discern fossils from ordinary rock was beyond the ability of many scientists. One common method involved licking the fossil. It was believed if the thing had animal material, it would stick to your tongue.

Despite such misconceptions, scholars of the day had no shortage of theories. This was a lost Cossack, a bowlegged rider suffering from rickets, a painful condition resulting in weak and misshapen bones. To some, the life of pain resulting from such a condition made perfect sense, the bony eye ridges resulting from perpetually furrowed brow.

1-neanderthal-man-granger

British geologist William King suspected something different. Something more radical. This was no aberrant human being nor even a lost ancestor. This was a member of a long lost alternate humanity.   An extinct but parallel species to our own.  King published a paper in 1864 hypothesizing his idea of an evolutionary dead end, naming the long lost species after the poet who had once wandered the valley in which it was discovered. He called it Homo Neanderthalensis: Neanderthal Man.

neanderthal-mother-and-child.png
“Neanderthal sculptures, named Nana and Flint, at the Gibraltar Museum”. H/T Jaap Scheeren, New York Times

Having no context from which to draw conclusions, King fell back on the pseudo science of phrenology to describe Neanderthal man, along with preconceptions of “primitive” and “savage” races. The image of a stupid and grunting brute emerged from this analysis. King opined that “The thoughts and desires which once dwelt within it never soared beyond those of a brute.” Today we may look at such thinking as itself savage and primitive, but applying modern ideas to earlier times is a dangerous undertaking. Ideas of Eugenics survived well after King’s time, and into the modern era.

sarlat-and-sites-402
The Old Man of La Chapelle-Aux-Saints reconstructed burial in the Musée de l’Homme de Néandertal, France

On this day in 1908, the brothers Amadee and Jean Bouyssonie found the most complete Neanderthal skeleton to date in a small cave near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in France.  This skeleton includes the skull, jaw, most of the vertebrae and several ribs, along with most of the long bones of the arms and legs, plus a number of smaller bones from the hands and feet.

French palaeontologist Marcellin Boule studied the remains and envisioned a brutish, hairy and gorilla-like beast with opposable toes and bent spine, walking on bowed legs with bent knees.  Boule’s reconstruction was influential. Decades later, scientists and popular culture viewed Neanderthal as bent and stupid brutes. Boule got it wrong that time but, to his credit, he was one of the first to recognize Piltdown Man as a paleoanthropological hoax.

Subsequent analysis of the “Old Man of La Chappelle” revealed not the bent-over beast of Boule’s imagination, but a fully erect biped, bent with advanced osteoarthritis.

What’s more, massive tooth loss and lack of mobility revealed that this specimen could neither hunt nor scavenge with ease, and would have had great difficulty in chewing his food. This and the unmolested state of the skeleton compared with animal bones found nearby suggest a man greatly cared for by his contemporaries, as well as deliberate burial of the body.

This wasn’t even an “old man” by our standards.  The skeleton is currently estimated to have been that of a man between 25 and 40 years, demonstrating the Hobbesian adage that life was indeed once “Nasty, Brutish and Short”.

Skeleton_and_restoration_model_of_Neanderthal_La_Ferrassie_1

Today, to call someone “Neanderthal” is to insult him as a stupid savage.  It appears our cousin was nothing of the sort.

The hyoid bone at the floor of the mouth serves as a connecting-point for the tongue and other musculature, giving humans the ability to speak. A delicate structure is likely to be lost in most fossilized remains, the first Neanderthal hyoid was only discovered in 1989.

An international team of researchers analysed this fossil Neanderthal bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modeling and, it turns out yes.  Neanderthal could not only speak, but was capable of highly complex speech not unlike our own, though his voice was likely high and grating.  Certainly not the base grunting commonly associated with “cave-men”.img_1054neanderthalsm

Shorter in stature and more powerfully built than Cro-Magnon, our direct ancestor and all but indistinguishable from ourselves, Neanderthal bodies were suited to the ice age of the early and middle Paleolithic era.

Neanderthal emerged on the Eurasian landmass between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.  Possessed of a brain only slightly smaller than Cro-Magnon, Neanderthals walked upright, formed and used simple tools and controlled fire.  They buried their own dead, at least sometimes, and some researchers theorize they built boats and sailed the Mediterranean.  Imperfectly formed tools and weapons found alongside more sophisticated specimens suggest he educated his children.

He might even fit in if you brought him back today, provided you dressed him right.

Despite all that, Neanderthal man is an evolutionary dead end and not our ancestor, though he did “coexist” for a time, with our Cro-Magnon forebears.  It’s possible if not probable the two bred together and produced children, though this was likely your random hookup rather than the result of long-term cohabitation.

Modern DNA analysis suggests the two species even shared some genetic disorders, such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and a variety of auto-immune conditions such as Lupus.

image_1481e-NeanderthalResearch suggests that we ourselves carry Neanderthal genes, those among us of Eurasian ancestry.  These genes may have changed our immune systems leaving us vulnerable to diseases such diabetes and cancer.

The idea is not as strange as it sounds. Recently, Sir Richard Branson was in the news, claiming to have looked into his family ancestry. Forty generations back, it turns out that Branson is related to Charlemagne.  That’s no big deal according to Genetecist Adam Rutherford. Speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival, Rutherford explained that “Literally every person in Europe is directly descended from Charlemagne. Literally, not metaphorically. You have a direct lineage which leads to Charlemagne,” adding “Looking around this room, every single one of you … is directly descended between 21 and 24 generations from Edward III.”

The only difference between celebrities and the rest of us it seems, is the means to prove it.

0506-Neanderthal-woman-genes

Hundreds of generations have come and gone, since our cousin trod the earth.  Perhaps calling someone ‘Neanderthal’ isn’t such an insult, after all.  That might be one of them, peering back from our bathroom mirror.

January 27, 47,981BC I, Neanderthal

Today, to call someone “Neanderthal” is to insult him as a stupid brute.  It appears that our cousin was nothing of the sort.

In the 17th century, the German Reformed Church teacher and hymn writer Joachim Neander liked to hike a valley outside of Düsseldorf. The beauty of nature was inspirational, clearing his mind and inspiring verses like:

“See how God this rolling globe/swathes with beauty as a robe…
Forests, fields, and living things/each its Master’s glory sings.”

The theologian contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of thirty.  And yet he lived on in a way, in the valley which came to bear his name.

Some 200 years later, three years before Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, workers quarrying limestone in the Neander Valley discovered an unusual skull.  This was no ordinary head, elongated and nearly chinless as it was, with heavy ridges over the eyes.  Heavy bones were found alongside  which fitted together, albeit oddly.

From top, clockwise: a) Neander Valley by Friedrich Wilhelm Schreiner, oil on cardboard, 1855, b) original bones discovered the following year, and c) Artist’s conception of what he looked like, H/T Artist: Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions

The state of archaeological science had much to learn in 1856.  Who knows, 22nd century historians and scientists may look back and say the same thing about us.  At the time, even to discern fossils from ordinary rock was beyond the ability of many scientists.

Scholars of the day had no shortage of theories. This was a lost Cossack, a bowlegged rider suffering from rickets, a painful condition resulting in weak and misshapen bones. To some, the life of pain resulting from such a condition made perfect sense, the bony eye ridges resulting from perpetually furrowed brow.

800px-neandertala_homo__modelo_en_neand-muzeo

British geologist William King suspected something radically different. This was no aberrant human being nor even a lost ancestor. This was a member of a long lost branch of humanity.   An extinct but parallel species to our own.  King published a paper in 1864 hypothesizing his idea of an evolutionary dead end, naming the long lost species after the poet who had once wandered the valley in which it was discovered.

bn-jj263_cavema_p_20150713194645

H/T, WSJ

He called it Homo Neanderthalensis: Neanderthal Man.

Today, to call someone “Neanderthal” is to insult him as a stupid brute.  It appears that our cousin was nothing of the sort.

thxsbryh8nThe hyoid bone at the floor of the mouth serves as a connecting-point for the tongue and other musculature, giving humans the ability to speak. A delicate structure likely to be lost in most fossilized specimens, the first Neanderthal hyoid was only discovered in 1989.

An international team of researchers analysed this fossil Neanderthal bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modelling and, yes.  Neanderthal could not only speak, but was capable of highly complex speech not unlike ourselves, though his voice was likely high and grating.  Certainly not the base grunting commonly associated with “cave-men”.

Neanderthal bodies were suited to the ice age of the early and middle Paleolithic era, shorter in stature and more robust, considerably more powerful than Cro-Magnon, our direct ancestor and all but indistinguishable from ourselves.

Neanderthal emerged on the Eurasian landmass, about 300,000 years ago.  The average female stood 5′ – 5’1″ and weighed 140-pounds, the average male about five inches taller and weighing in at 172.

neanderthal, mother and child

“Neanderthal sculptures, named Nana and Flint, at the Gibraltar Museum”. H/T Jaap Scheeren, New York Times

Neanderthal possessed  a brain only slightly smaller than Cro-Magnon, walked upright, formed and used simple tools and controlled fire.  They even buried their own dead, at least sometimes.  Some researchers theorize that they built boats and sailed the Mediterranean.  Imperfectly formed tools and weapons found alongside more sophisticated specimens even suggest he educated his children.

neanderthalchild1t
H/T Signs of the Times, Science & Technology

He might even fit in if you brought him back today, provided you dressed him right.

Despite all that, Neanderthal was an evolutionary dead end and not our ancestor, though he did “coexist” for about 5,000 years with our Cro-Magnon forebears.  The two even bred together and produced children, sometimes, the first such encounter taking place on this day, fifty thousand years ago.

Whether the happy couple had Barry White or Marvin Gaye playing in the cave, is lost to history.

Alright, I made that part up, but not the “coexist” part.  Our modern ancestors migrated from the African continent some 50,000 years ago, resulting in that first hookup somewhere on the Eurasian landmass.  It was far from the last.

range_of_neanderthalsacoloured

Known Neanderthal range, ca 300,000 years ago, to 35,000BC

Several years ago, Vanderbilt University Geneticists compared a genome-wide map of Neanderthal haplotypes, with a database of some 28,000 modern adults of European and Asian ancestry. The 2016 study published in the journal Science, reported that modern day Eurasians carry between 1½% to 4% of Neanderthal DNA.  

The study went on to postulate a range of traits relevant to disease risk in modern humans and linked back to Neanderthal DNA, including those which influence depression, obesity, mood disorders, skin disease and addiction.

20-physical-traits-you-may-have-inherited-from-a-neanderthal-300x300The idea isn’t as strange as it sounds. Last year, Sir Richard Branson was in the news, claiming  he’d looked into his family ancestry. Forty generations back, turns out Branson is related to Charlemagne.  It’s no big deal, according to Geneticist Adam Rutherford. Speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival, Rutherford explained: “Literally every person in Europe is directly descended from Charlemagne. Literally, not metaphorically. You have a direct lineage which leads to Charlemagne,” adding “Looking around this room, every single one of you … is directly descended between 21 and 24 generations from Edward III.

Edward III of England exited this world a mere 689 years ago.  The time from which the last Neanderthal left the stage was fifty times that span.

1-occipital-bun-e1419459708298If you have European or Asian ancestry, the following traits might be a sign of your inner Neanderthal:

The “Occipital Bun” (I have one of those) is a knot of rounded bone, believed to have once anchored the massive neck and jaw muscles of Neanderthal.

c0dd5e736cc6ddebdf295b65d14c75e3The naturally large eyes of individuals such as Ukrainian model Masha Tyelna are believed to have been useful to Neanderthal, making their way in the dim light of northern latitudes.  In fact, Neanderthal may have used more brain power processing visual input:  an evolutionary disadvantage compared with early modern humans.

12-red-hair

One mutation in the main gene for hair color appears to come from Neanderthal, including a spectrum of red hair from auburn to carrot top to strawberry blond. Two to six per cent of modern Europeans have red hair, compared with 0.6%, worldwide. Red hair is much more prevalent in the British Isles. 10% to 13% of Irish and Scottish respectively have red hair, while 30% (Scotland) and 46% (Ireland) carry the gene.

I remember, before it turned gray, my beard was a screaming shade of red.

4ca8e48815353a6b541668666ebe924fFreckles?  Fair skin is more efficient at producing vitamin D from weak sunlight, an advantage for those living at northern latitudes. Freckles result from clusters of cells which overproduce melanin granules, triggered by exposure to sunlight. Freckles are found in a wide range of skin colors and ethnicity, but are most prevalent on fair complexions. It is a Neanderthal gene most common in Eurasians, among whom 70% are believed to carry the gene.

Having evolved for hundreds of thousands of years on the Eurasian landmass, Neanderthals developed the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) receptor, a gene complex responsible for immune system response to local pathogens. While the HLA receptor conferred an immunity advantage on modern humans, it rendered us more susceptible to a range of autoimmune conditions from Lupus to Crohn’s disease to increased risk for cancer and type 2 Diabetes.

Perhaps calling someone ‘Neanderthal’ isn’t such an insult, after all.  Maybe, there’s one peering out from the bathroom mirror.

article-2529822-1a1bd6a7000005dc-828_634x389

Feature image, top of page: Hat tip, CBSNews.com

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

August 3, 1908 The Old Man of La Chappelle

Research suggests that we all carry Neanderthal genes and that these may have changed our immune systems, leaving us vulnerable to diseases such diabetes and cancer.

In the 17th century, the German Reformed Church teacher and hymn writer Joachim Neander liked to hike a valley outside of Düsseldorf. The beauty of nature was inspirational, clearing his mind and inspiring verses like “See how God this rolling globe/swathes with beauty as a robe…Forests, fields, and living things/each its Master’s glory sings.”  The theologian contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of thirty but lived on in a way, in the valley which came to bear his name.

Nearly 200 years later, three years before Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, workers quarrying limestone in the Neander Valley discovered an unusual skull.  This was no ordinary head, elongated and nearly chinless as it was, with heavy ridges over the eyes.  Heavy bones were found alongside,  which fitted together, oddly.

From top, clockwise:  a) Neander Valley by Friedrich Wilhelm Schreiner, oil on cardboard, 1855, b) original bones discovered the following year, and c)Artist’s conception of what he looked like, H/T Artist: Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions

The state of archaeological science had much to learn in 1856.  Who knows, 22nd century historians and scientists may look back at our time, and say we had a long way to go.  At the time, even to discern fossils from ordinary rock was beyond the ability of many scientists. One common method involved licking the fossil. If the thing had animal material, it would stick to your tongue.

Despite such misconceptions, scholars of the day had no shortage of theories. This was a lost Cossack, a bowlegged rider suffering from rickets, a painful condition resulting in weak and misshapen bones. To some, the life of pain resulting from such a condition made perfect sense, the bony eye ridges resulting from perpetually furrowed brow.

British geologist William King suspected something different. Something more radical. This was no aberrant human being nor even a lost ancestor. This was a member of a long lost alternate humanity.   An extinct but parallel species to our own.  King published a paper in 1864 hypothesizing his idea of an evolutionary dead end, naming the long lost species after the poet who had once wandered the valley in which it was discovered. He called it Homo Neanderthalensis: Neanderthal Man.

Neanderthal mother and child
“Neanderthal sculptures, named Nana and Flint, at the Gibraltar Museum”. H/T Jaap Scheeren, New York Times

Having no context from which to draw conclusions, King fell back on the pseudo science of phrenology to describe Neanderthal man, along with preconceptions of “primitive” and “savage” races. The image of a stupid and grunting brute emerged from this analysis. King opined that “The thoughts and desires which once dwelt within it never soared beyond those of a brute.” Today we may look at such thinking as itself savage and primitive, but applying modern ideas to earlier times is a dangerous undertaking. Ideas of Eugenics survived well after King’s time, and into the modern era.

On this day in 1908, the brothers Amadee and Jean Bouyssonie found the most complete Neanderthal skeleton to date in a small cave near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in France.  This skeleton includes the skull, jaw, most of the vertebrae and several ribs, along with most of the long bones of his arms and legs, plus a number of smaller bones from the hands and feet.

Sarlat and sites 402
The Old Man of La Chapelle-Aux-Saints reconstructed burial in the Musée de l’Homme de Néandertal, France

French palaeontologist Marcellin Boule studied the remains and envisioned a brutish, hairy and gorilla-like beast with opposable toes and bent spine, walking on bowed legs with bent knees.  Boule’s reconstruction was influential. Decades later, scientists and popular culture viewed Neanderthal as bent and stupid brutes. Boule got it wrong that time but, to his credit, was one of the first to recognize Piltdown Man, as a paleoanthropological hoax.

Subsequent analysis of the “Old Man of La Chappelle” revealed not the bent-over beast of Boule’s imagination, but a fully erect biped, bent with advanced osteoarthritis.

What’s more, massive tooth loss and lack of mobility revealed that this specimen could neither hunt nor scavenge with ease, and would have had great difficulty in chewing his food. This and the unmolested state of the skeleton compared with animal bones found nearby suggest a man greatly cared for by his contemporaries, as well as deliberate burial of the body.

This wasn’t even an “old man” by our standards.  The skeleton is currently estimated to have been that of a man between 25 and 40 years, demonstrating the Hobbesian adage that life was once indeed, “Nasty, Brutish and Short”.

Today, to call someone a “Neanderthal” is to insult him as a stupid savage.  It appears that our cousin was nothing of the sort.

Skeleton_and_restoration_model_of_Neanderthal_La_Ferrassie_1

The hyoid bone situated at the floor of the mouth serves as a connecting-point for the tongue and other musculature, giving humans the ability to speak. A delicate structure likely to be lost in most fossilized remains, the first Neanderthal hyoid was only discovered in 1989.

An international team of researchers analysed this fossil Neanderthal bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modelling and, yes.  Neanderthal could not only speak, but was capable of highly complex speech not unlike ourselves, though his voice was likely high and grating.  Certainly not the base grunting commonly associated with “cave-men”.

img_1054neanderthalsmShorter in stature and considerably more powerful than Cro-Magnon, our direct ancestor and all but indistinguishable from ourselves, Neanderthal bodies were suited to the ice age of the early and middle Paleolithic era.

Neanderthal emerged on the Eurasian landmass between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.  Possessed of a brain only slightly smaller than Cro-Magnon, Neanderthals walked upright, formed and used simple tools and controlled fire.  They even buried their own dead, at least sometimes, and some researchers theorize that they built boats and sailed the Mediterranean.  Imperfectly formed tools and weapons found alongside more sophisticated specimens even suggest that he educated his children.

He might even fit in if you brought him back today, provided you dressed him right.

Despite all that, Neanderthal man is an evolutionary dead end and not our ancestor, though he did “coexist” for a time, with our Cro-Magnon forebears.  It’s even possible if not probable that the two bred together and produced children, though this was likely your random hookup rather than any long-term cross-breeding.

Modern DNA analysis suggests that the two species even shared some genetic disorders, such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and a variety of auto-immune conditions such as Lupus.

image_1481e-Neanderthal

Research even suggests that we  carry Neanderthal genes, every one of us, and that these may have changed our immune systems leaving us vulnerable to diseases such diabetes and cancer.

The idea is not as strange as it sounds. Last year, Sir Richard Branson was in the news, claiming that he had looked into his family ancestry. Forty generations back, it turns out that Branson is related to Charlemagne.  That’s no big deal, according to Genetecist Adam Rutherford. Speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival, Rutherford explained that “Literally every person in Europe is directly descended from Charlemagne. Literally, not metaphorically. You have a direct lineage which leads to Charlemagne,” adding “Looking around this room, every single one of you … is directly descended between 21 and 24 generations from Edward III.”  The only difference between celebrities and the rest of us it turns out, is the means to prove it.

0506-Neanderthal-woman-genes

So, maybe calling someone ‘Neanderthal’ isn’t such an insult, after all.  Perhaps there’s one in there somewhere, peering back at us from our bathroom mirror.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.