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The First Genocide?

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Or perhaps the analogy of Cain and Abel?

Remains Show Human Killed Neanderthal

Newly analyzed remains suggest that a modern human killed a Neanderthal man in what is now Iraq between 50,000 and 75,000 years ago. The finding is scant but tantalizing evidence for a theory that modern humans helped to kill off the Neanderthals. The probable weapon of choice: A thrown spear.

The evidence: A lethal wound on the remains of a Neanderthal skeleton. The victim: A 40- to 50-year-old male, now called Shanidar 3, with signs of arthritis and a sharp, deep slice in his left ninth rib. “What we’ve got is a rib injury, with any number of scenarios that could explain it,” said study researcher Steven Churchill, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in North Carolina. “We’re not suggesting there was a blitzkrieg, with modern humans marching across the land and executing the Neandertals [aka Neanderthals]. I want to say that loud and clear.” But he added, “We think the best explanation for this injury is a projectile weapon, and given who had those and who didn’t, that implies at least one act of inter-species aggression.”

What is interesting about the disappearance of the Neanderthal is that it is hard to explain simply in terms of competition for resources with early Homo Sapiens, given that the global human population was astronomically low. The Neanderthal too, would have had many physical advantages, given their more robust physiology, over their evolutionary cousins. Speculation has ranged from climate change, to immunological differences to the cognitive and cultural.

Could a key cultural difference have been a propensity of Homo Sapiens to make war? To seek out, rather than avoid conflict?

Forensic Paleo-Anthropology and the Last Man

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009



A British forensic scientist, Dr. Richard Neaves, has recreated the head of one of the earliest modern human ( some differences in brain case and teeth)  hunter-gathers from fossil remains, in the same manner of reconstructing the identity of homicide victims.

His recreation offers a tantalising glimpse into life before the dawn of civilisation. It also shows the close links between the first European settlers and their immediate African ancestors. To sculpt the head, Mr Neave called on his years of experience recreating the appearance of murder victims as well as using careful measurements of bone. It was made for the BBC2 series The Incredible Human Journey. This will follow the evolution of humans from the cradle of Africa to the waves of migrations that saw Homo sapiens colonise the globe.

….’Richard creates skulls of much more recent humans and he’s used to looking at differences between populations. ‘He said the skull doesn’t look European or Asian or African. It looks like a mixture of all of them. ‘That’s probably what you’d expect of someone among the earliest populations to come to Europe

As with the example of Kennewick Man, efforts at forensic paleo-anthropogy shatter modern racial assumptions regarding our earliest ancestors, regardless of whether those assumptions emanate from archaic stereotypes or modern PC ideology. Kennewick Man bore little or no resemblance to Amerinidian tribal groups that he long preceded, and Native American activists responded to the startling archaeological find  by attempting to have the remains seized, scientific analysis of them banned and the site bulldozed. The “First European”in turn, looks nothing like the Aryan mythology of the Nazis or 19th century European racialist agitators. Instead, he appears somewhat like an Africanized Yul Brynner.

These reconstructions demolish our casual, self-referentially anachronistic, projections of our own demographic groups backward in time. We want to see ourselves in the people “back then” just like we wish to imagine that kind of continuity in a far-flung future. I’m dubous that we will look like “us” 100,00 or 250,00 years in the future and wonder if such a  people will even acknowledge their kinship with us any more than we do with Homo Habilis.

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