How to think like a Neandertal

by Thomas Wynn

Paper Book, 2011



Call number

GN285 .W96 2011


New York : Oxford University Press, c2011.


There have been many books, movies, and even TV commercials featuring Neandertals - some serious, some comical. But what was it really like to be a Neandertal? How were their lives similar to or different from ours?In How to Think Like a Neandertal, archaeologist Thomas Wynn and psychologist Frederick L. Coolidge team up to provide a brilliant account of the mental life of Neandertals, drawing on the most recent fossil and archaeological remains. Indeed, some Neandertal remains are not fossilized, allowingscientists to recover samples of their genes - one specimen had the gene for red hair and, more provocatively, all had a gene called FOXP2, which is thought to be related to speech. Given the differences between their faces and ours, their voices probably sounded a bit different, and the range ofconsonants and vowels they could generate might have been different. But they could talk, and they had a large (perhaps huge) vocabulary - words for places, routes, techniques, individuals, and emotions.Extensive archaeological remains of stone tools and living sites (and, yes, they did often live in caves) indicate that Neandertals relied on complex technical procedures and spent most of their lives in small family groups. The authors sift the evidence that Neandertals had a symbolic culture -looking at their treatment of corpses, the use of fire, and possible body coloring - and conclude that they probably did not have a sense of the supernatural. The book explores the brutal nature of their lives, especially in northwestern Europe, where men and women with spears hunted together formammoths and wooly rhinoceroses. They were pain tolerant, very likely taciturn, and not easy to excite.Wynn and Coolidge offer here an eye-opening portrait of Neandertals, painting a remarkable picture of these long-vanished people and providing insight, as they go along, into our own minds and culture.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member CGlanovsky
This could've been a much more interesting book if the authors hadn't insisted on leaving out claims they couldn't solidly bolster with evidence. If only they'd been willing to throw caution to the wind and toss out their pesky espousal of moderation. Always taking the conservative view and
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painting the likeliest picture rather than the most astounding possibility, this book offers a sound-minded idea of what the prospects of a transplanted Neandertal would be in the modern world. They touch on such topics as empathy, problem-solving, innovation and even sense of humor and dreaming. As evidence they take the archaeological record and comparative studies of ourselves and our nearest primate relatives, attempting to synthesize this information into a best guess with healthy reservation. As it turns out, a Neandertal would make a great modern-day doctor. Find out why.
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LibraryThing member shmerica
Wicked discussion of what the Neandertal mind could have been like. The two authors are tops in their field and have been engaging in thought experiments for years (with an understandable conservative slant in their conclusions.) Thoroughly enjoyable and totally accessible!



0199742820 / 9780199742820


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