Robert Thompsons’s brilliant cartoon in the Metro a fortnight ago (‘Neanderthal man kept an orderly cave’) manages to both contrive a witty pun on dinosaur/Dyson vacuum cleaner and invoke the popular (but wildly inaccurate) cliche about cave men being alive at the time of the dinosaurs. And all this as a humorous aside on an article about Neanderthals keeping their caves neat and tidy.
This reminded me of another entertaining cave man cartoon that appeared in New Scientist ‘Chewing gum gave Stone Age punk a buzz’ (18th September 1993) in which it was reported that 9000-year-old chewing gum had been found in Sweden:-
“It could only have been a teenager” observed a Swedish archaeologist!
Both cartoons are very entertaining but there may be a deeper underlying meaning. The cartoons seem to suggest (though 17 years apart) that the house-proud Neanderthal has the edge over the Homo sapiens teenager spitting chewing gum on the rug. This provides an ironic backdrop to a debate that has continued pretty well since the discovery of the first Neanderthal skeleton in the mid-19th century.
It was argued that because Neanderthals became extinct, they were, in Darwinian terms, backward, primitive and definitely inferior to Homo sapiens, who inevitably replaced them. More recently, Neanderthals have enjoyed much more sympathetic treatment. Their demise has been attributed not so much to their backwardness but to factors over which they had no control such as changes in climate, disease and the increasing isolation of Neanderthal populations. Their brains were larger than ours and, if the latest findings are correct, their treatment of their domestic space shows they were certainly not backward in organising their domestic space.
It is not so long ago that it was reported that Neanderthals created Europe’s first bone tools, adding to growing evidence that Neanderthals were much more intelligent than previously believed (‘Bone tools dispel myth that Neanderthals were stupid’ The Daily Telegraph 13/8/2013 p.10). That cartoons contribute to this debate is a fascinating side-line to prehistoric archaeology. How archaeology comes to be transmuted through popular culture is an area of increasing interest.
A very happy Christmas and New Year to all readers of the Ancient Worlds blog. Joyeux Noel. ευτυχισμένα Χριστούγεννα. Счастливого Рождества.