Re: Archaic H. sapiens???

Dave Eadsforth (
Tue, 7 Jan 1997 22:53:07 +0000

In article <>, Michael McBroom
<> writes
>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


I am not an academic, and I am probably putting my question to the wrong
newsgroup, (forgiveness begged in advance...) but I have been prompted
to follow up the comment concerning Homo N's respect for the dead and
apparant use of funerary ritual - flowers in the graves, arrangement of
bodies etc. Not only did I happen to be discussing this subject with
friends a week ago, but the situation begs the question as to whether
any researcher has made a detailed study of the behaviour of a range of
contemporary primates with regard to their treatment of their dead, and
whether any of today's apes show the beginnings of a sophisticated
response (forms of 'ritual' display of grief...particular behaviour
towards the remains of the deceased etc). Any such behaviour by a
modern ape might place Homo N's apparant ritual more in the class of an
evolved response rather than a 'spiritual' one.

Having said that I was not too impressed by the behaviour of a couple of
young gorillas I saw on TV a short while ago who were totally puzzled by
the lifeless corpse of their father and who, after many attempts to wake
up the old man, simply wandered off and left him. He may, of course,
have been the first corpse they had seen, and there were no other, older
members of the group present who may have had a better understanding of
the situation.

Do the apes who kill (at least ocassionally, like the chimps) have a
much better appreciation of the state of death? Do they exhibit any
'ritual' for their own dead?

Do I simply need to read some books by Jane Goodall?!

Thanks for your patience...

Dave Eadsforth