Re: Archaic H. sapiens???

Michael McBroom (
Mon, 06 Jan 1997 12:24:14 -0500

Ralph L Holloway wrote:
> On Mon, 6 Jan 1997, Michael McBroom wrote:
> <snipped>
> > good communication system. The morphology of the Neanderthal palate and
> > basicranial area, however, indicates that his vowel and consonant
> > inventory was much more limited than ours. So, it seems more likely to
> > me that, while Neanderthal had a fairly sophisticated vocal
> > communication system, something that would enable him to contemplate
> > past and future, something that would allow the elders of the society to
> > pass on their wisdom to the younger members, it was still something that
> > fell well short of what we call language. There seems to be one
> > pervasive -- and crucial -- characteristic of modern language that
> > Neanderthal may have lacked: improvisation, invention, originality . . .
> > call it what you will.
> The morphology of the Neandertal palate and basicranium simply cannot
> prove anything about the range of sounds that Neandertals were capable of.
> You can certainly hypothesise that such might have been the case, but to
> state that it is proven goes much too far.

I made no such claim of proof. The basicranium and palate are, however,
good indicators of the range of articulatory movements possible, based
on our studies of extant species.

> And how in the world do you
> derive this knowledge about their lack of improvisation, originality,
> "call it what you will", when you cannot make any relationship between
> these cognitive faculties and the palate, basicranium, hyoid bone, missing
> cartilage, or even the brain endocasts which show no primitive
> characteristics. The stone tools of the Australian aborigines were pretty
> scrappy, and if you only went by them, would you say they lacked
> improvisation, invention, originality?

Please note that I was not stating anything with absolute certainty. I
wrote that there "seems to be." Neanderthal is, in many ways, an
enigma. Perhaps he will always remain such. But, yes, if you look at
his toolkit, there are characteristics about it that I find
interesting. First, it remains more or less fixed virtually throughout
Neanderthal's entire existence. Until almost the very end, however. At
the very end of Neanderthal's existence, we see the brief emergence of
the Chatelperonian (sp?) kit, which contains several examples of Upper
Paleolithic technology. As you probably know, many scholars feel that
Neanderthal borrowed the technology from H.s., either through learning
it, trading for it, or stealing it. I believe the first to be the most
likely scenario. Either way, it is doubtful that Neanderthal
*originated* it, given the previous fixity of his toolkit. Why, then,
did Neanderthal suddenly adopt this new and alien technology when his
existing one had served him well enough for so long? Could it be,
perhaps, competition with H.s. over finite resources? And is it
coincidence that, shortly after this evidence of contact between
Neanderthal and H.s., that Neanderthal becomes extinct?

I personally don't feel a disease vector can be ruled out, given the
fact that arctic climes tend to be rather sterile. But I also think
that another possibility exists which led to Neanderthal's
disappearance: the superior communicative and strategy-forming abilities
of H.s, which were most likely a result of the superior form of
communication and representation, aka language, that he had at his
disposal. We must keep in mind that Neanderthal was better adapted to a
cold environment. He had much greater physical strength than H.s. So,
where did his disadvantages lie? If we may neglect the disease vector
for the sake of discussion, the principal of parsimony indicates to me
that this disadvantage would be in the area of strategy formation over
competition for limited resources. He simply got "outsmarted" by the
new guys, larger cranial capacity notwithstanding, and became
marginalized. Chances are, we did to Neanderthal what we've done to
many other species: we appropriate their habitat as our own, and drive
them into increasingly marginal environments until they reach the point
where they can no longer survive.

I would strongly recommend that you peruse through Derek Bickerton's
_Language and Species_ (1990) and Philip Lieberman's _The Biology and
Evolution of Language_ (1984). This topic is addressed in both books.
And while these two authors vehemently disagree with each other on some
points, they seem to be in fairly close agreement on this one.


Michael McBroom
CSUF Linguistics