Re: Archaic H. sapiens???

Michael McBroom (
Mon, 06 Jan 1997 18:54:30 -0500

Bjorn Pedersen wrote:

> If I remember my school days correctly the Homo Neanderthalis buried
> its dead, and to me it seems such an act would require a high level of
> abstraction in the language - being able to pass on the myths and
> beliefs associated with death and possible life beyond death. Even if
> the Neanderthal lacked the capacity to verbalize as much as Homo
> Sapiens, could it be said that their language was inferior to Homo
> Sapiens in a cultural and textural context?

This is an excellent question, and goes to the enigma that Neanderthal
has come to represent. It may be that Neanderthal buried his dead for
purely practical concerns, such as keeping scavengers away from their
areas of habitation, or to reduce the odor.

There is some evidence, however -- I believe the remains found at
Shanidar is one example -- for ceremonial burial. Flower pollen found
in situ, the arrangement of the bodies, etc. If we assume that
Neanderthal did have respect for the dead, and I believe he did, then,
yes, this most definitely argues for some form of advanced communicative
abilities. At a minimum, it seems to me that it would demonstrate
abstract referential capabilities that include an awareness of the past
and anticipation of the future. (It can be argued that burial rituals
show both a respect for the memories of the dead as well as an
anticipation of the consequences if the body is not buried. This not
only demonstrates an awareness of past and present, but also an
awareness of cause and effect.)

When compared to Homo sapiens, however, there seems to be a
fundamentally different level of communicative and representational
ability present. I'm sure that Neanderthal's language capabilities
served him adequately within the context of his own culture. But if we
accept the premise that he was pushed into more and more marginalized
levels of existence by H.s. until his eventual demise, then one
conclusion that we can make, and the most convincing one to me, is that
this superior organization inherent in H.s. language and culture was the
most dominant factor that led to Neanderthal's fate.


Michael McBroom
CSUF Linguistics