As we approach the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, we also must face the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. The 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species also approaches in November. In recognition of the terrific impact Darwin’s theory of evolution has had on the world, we are printing articles that touch on the other side of the story. In the December 23, 2008 eNews, we defined the word ‘evolution’. This week we’ll scrutinize Neanderthal Man and see that even man’s efforts to demonstrate humanity’s evolution have ended in glory for God.
In 1856, the bones of an ancient human were discovered in a cave in the Neander Valley, east of Dusseldorf, Germany. The bones came to be called the “Neander Thal”, (Neander Valley), Man.
During the 20th century, the public was taught to view the Neanderthals as great hulking fellows, with hairy jutting jaws and drooping lips; the “cave” man, man’s less-than-bright evolutionary cousin. Never mind that these ancient fellows owned skulls with brain cases, and therefore brains, larger than our own.
When the great pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) considered the Neanderthal bones in 1872, he concluded that the Neanderthal first discovered in 1856 was a middle aged man with bad cases of arthritis and rickets (caused by a vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight). After Darwins On the Origin of Species was published, the view that these bones came from an evolutionary ancestor distorted the objectivity of many scientists; the heavy-boned Neanderthal came to be thought of as a half-witted missing link between the apes and modern man.
As progressively more is known about these ancient humans, paleoanthropologists have worked to discern exactly how Neanderthals did fit into human history. Recent studies on mitochondrial DNA have claimed to show that Neanderthals, while closely related to modern humans, were not direct descendants. However, the Lake Mungo 3 skeleton found in Australia, an anatomically modern human, also has different mtDNA than humans today. While the Neanderthal line of humanity may have died out, the evidence argues that they were very intelligent people.
Discoveries during more recent years have shed more light on the Neanderthals and their lives. Since the original discovery in the Neander Valley, more Neanderthal bones have been discovered across Europe and even in Israel. The Neanderthals possessed the hyoid bone, which is necessary for human speech. They have been found with tools and weapons, cave drawings, evidences of burial, and even a musical instrument. In fact, the finger holes of the Neanderthal flute found in Slovenia in 1995 were spaced according to the diatonic scale “ do re me fa so la ti do“ which argues that its maker possessed both intelligence and a musical ear. The Neanderthal image is having to be revamped as scientists realize that while they were thicker boned and more physically powerful than we are today, these humans were also intelligent, creative, and spiritually-aware people.
In fact, Dr. Jack Cuozzo, a New Jersey orthodontist who has studied several of the Neanderthal skulls firsthand, argues that based on his experience of studying bone growth, the Neanderthals may have simply lived extremely long lives – perhaps 400-500 years rather than our typical 80.
Ironically, the name Neander is a classical version of Neumann, which means “new man.” Even more ironic is the way the “New Man” Valley received its name. In the mid 1600s, a young man named Joachin Neander settled in Dusseldorf, Germany as rector of the Latin school. While suspended from teaching during some disagreements with the Reformed church, he spent a great deal of time walking in the nearby river valley and writing hymns. Apparently, he spent so much time in that pleasant valley near Dusseldorf, it was later named for him. His hymns were published and some, like the following verse, are sung today.
- Praise ye the Lord the Almighty, the King of Creation
- Oh my soul praise him for he is thy health and salvation
- All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near
- Join me in glad adoration.
As scientists work to place the Neanderthals in their appropriate place in human history, the very name given these ancient humans brings to mind that other Neander Valley man who praised God as the Almighty “ and perhaps the Neanderthal bones, even now, are bringing glory to the same King of Creation.