Did Neandertals have a self?

In the current (September 21:1443) Science, it is reported that the previously accepted assumption that the Neandertals buried their dead has itself been disinterred and brought back into question. “A core issue in the debate is the criteria that should be used to define a deliberate burial, and how well they are fulfilled at the approximately 20 Neandertal sites where burial has been claimed.” Archeologists Alain Turq and Harold Dibble are re-examining this question at La Ferrassie, where over 100 years ago the skeletons of seven Neandertals, including the most complete adult skull ever, were found. The issue is whether they were deliberately buried or simply “disposed” in a natural depression.

The re-opening of this debate is of interest to me because it disinters yet another issue that is even more deeply buried in the academic tomb of “that which is accepted.” It is assumed without questioning that burying the dead—particularly with artifacts or, as in prehistoric humans, red ochre or beads—connotes a “symbolic act.” I will not take the time to define the concept of a symbol except to point out that refers to a capacity in the cognitive sphere.

I believe that Turq and Dibble will be proven correct because the act of burial has nothing to do with symbolic capacity but with a new awareness of self which is the hallmark of Homo sapiens. As I have been espousing in this blog, pre-human hominids, including Neandertals, had no awareness of their individual selves, but rather spent their lives immersed in a communal consciousness that existed only in the awareness of its (His) immediate collective pursuits. Individuals viewed themselves just as the cells of your body view you: they are part of you for a while and then are regularly sloughed off to be replaced. No one is going around ceremonially burying their dead cells.

Beads and red ochre are not necessarily symbolic.

I have discussed in previous posts that early Homo sapiens are primarily distinguished by neoteny (the selection of juvenile characteristics) indisputably by means of sexual selection. The arrival of sexual display as a central motivation is the hallmark of modern man. The individual body-self was (and still is) the focus of this new consciousness, exemplified by decorating it with beads and red ochre. These were not symbolic acts but emotional expressions of a new consciousness of self. Similarly, the burying of the dead was an expression of this new self-awareness that, unlike the immortality of the underlying (and still present) ancient hominid consciousness, was now newly mortal— and naturally evoked sentiments arising from empathy for a deceased individual.

The first true symbols were linguistic and arose as a “side effect” of this new consciousness of self. When sexual selection arose as a major evolutionary force in early Homo sapiens it was this novel emotion and motivation that was first evolved, which then created a new “field” of social ecology wherein novel cognitive capacities (such as symbols) could be naturally selected.

Wylie’s Law: Emotion Precedes Cognition in the Evolution of Hominid (social) Behavior.



2 Comments on “Wylie’s Law”

  1. Terry,The fact that many of a lineage’s imetmiade descendants are found in an area is a reason, and a rather strong reason, for believing that that region is its ancestral home, but it is not decisive.There are still weighty considerations from phenotypes to the contrary. In Africa and the western half of Eurasia there is a sequence of phenotypes corresponding to the sequence of climates from the tropics to the arctic: tall, thin Negroids in the tropics; short, thin Mediterranean Caucasoids in the subtropics; tall, more heavily built northern Caucasoids in the mid-temperate areas; and short, heavy incipient Mongoloid and Mongoloids in the subarctic and arctic just what our knowledge of the influence of climate predicts. In the western half of Eurasia and Australasia we have something somewhat similar Mongoloids in the subarctic and arctic of North Asia and the cold desert and semidesert of Central Asia; then south of them we have the people of mid-temperate north China, who are tall and husky like Northern Europeans; then the people of south China, who are shorter and thinner like Mediterraneans; then there are the people of Australasia and the first inhabitants of Southeast Asia the Australians and Papuans who are tall and thin, and in the later case, rather Negroid. However, in the first three belts, and in Southeast Asia today, we have people with epicanthic folds and other attributes we call Mongoloid, but we don’t have Negroid or Mediterranean features in the north and so we conclude that Mongoloid moved from the north to the south (as you admit). Well the simplest way to tie this together is to say that Homo sapiens spread from Africa to northern Asia, changing much of its phenotype as it entered new climates, and then north Asians, with a Mongoloid phenotype, spread southward, sometimes mixing with but often killing or displacing prior inhabitants, and adapting to new climates, but not to the extent of losing all Mongoloid characteristics, especially retaining the epicanthic fold.Further, it seems simpler to suppose that the ancestors of Europeans arrived by the short route through Southwest Asia and Central Asia, then to suppose that they went through Southwest Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and Central Asia.Finally, as to why so many basal descendents of K are found in Australasia, I would say that the reason is that a branch of the people with K males in southwest Asia headed eastward to Australasia, and there K gave rise to several new descendents, including M and S, while back home K’s other descendents, P and NO, outnumbered and perhaps killed off or outcompeted K, for the most part.As to the Khoisan, I would agree they have some Mongoloid features, but for the most part do not. As to the epicanthic folds, I thought that perhaps they were a protection against wind (and there may be less wind in the Kalahari than in North Asia, but there is sand in it), but your theory about glare is also very appealing. But in that case it suggests that the Mongoloids developed their folds in the Arctic tundra. I am tempted to say that they originated there, because in all other Mongoloid regions, the corresponding region to the west is or was originally inhabited by Caucasoids. However, we might still say that Mongoloids originated in the taiga instead, if we say that the northeast Europeans would have become fully Mongoloid if only they had been in the subarctic as long as Siberians have. In that case wind seems to be more important than glare as a cause of the folds.

    1. The comment below is a wonderful set-piece example of the beauty and simplicity of Wylie’s law. The “phenotypes” referred to below (somehow the order got screwed up) are an example for the angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin that current state of paleoanthropology is at. None of rthis information has any importance at all. The important phenotypes were occurring in the emotional and emotional sphere, and were occurring across the board in all of these populations, drifting their way forward toward greater capacities to coordinate productive behavior.

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