September 20, 2008

John Hawks stars in the "Neanderthal Code"!

Ok, "stars" may be a bit too much, but judging from the videos on the National Geographic site, he seems to have quite a big role in the documentary:
I feel like the defense attorney for the Neanderthals sometimes. I am trying to see the ways that they overlapped with us, and trying to add complexity to the story, because any story that involves things happening over a continent over thousands of years, it's got to be complicated.
I don't have a very strong opinion on Neanderthal-sapiens relations, but I must acknowledge that in Prof. Hawks, everyone's favorite Paleolithic mystery men (and women) have found one of their most eloquent defenders.

Ian Tattersall also appears (probably on the Out of Africa corner of the ring).

Most anthropologists today seem to be somewhere between the replacement and assimilation model of human origins, with Wolpoff's multi-regional model still in the running, and Coon's "candelabra" model mostly abandoned.

This is one debate that has raged for decades, and depends on the interpretation of a handful of old skeletons, and of the new DNA evidence about Neanderthals.

I will probably be watching the Neanderthal Code and making further comments in the coming week.

UPDATE Here is the 10-page article from the October 2008 issue of National Geographic.


  1. I remember Coons drawing on a Neanderthal dressed in a pin striped suit from the 1930's, it looked like a cross between old time character/gangster actor Edward G. Robinson and a Norwegian Lapp boy,lol.

    The Neanderthals in this program appear like typical old B-movie Ape-men/ or "Cave-Men". They never appear truly like Neanderthals in these programs, because they lack the correct skull shape and body proportions when using a modern men with just fake hair and bulbous fake noses. So end up looking like ugly ass pseudo- Cromagnons.

    Also I think this resent Neanderthal recon should be very hairy, as I doubt their females practiced hygiene like shaving, and they probably wouldve been WAY more masculine than their Homo-Sapien counterparts.

  2. Overall, I thought the program was up-to-date, informative, and reasonably well executed.

    A couple of important reservations/ criticisms:

    - the evolving map shown, several times, with the spread of AMHs in red, was just wrong on so many accounts, NG should really take a close look at a second revision of this. I could easily point out five major flaws, but the most important ones are: (i) the initial advance into the Nile/Levant area was earlier by 50,000 years than anything else, may have led to some interbreeding, but did not bring about population growth, and by all accounts and records ended in the demise of the people involved. (ii) the route taken later, about 60,000 years ago, has clearly been established as southern and coastal. It took AMHs 15,000 years or so to learn and cope with a more northern, colder, and inland environment already occupied by Neanderthals, before they managed to conquer an Afghanistan and Caucasus that was similar to their newly-found north-western Pakistan environment, but yet far removed from the tropical coastline of India. Only then were they equipped to march into both Europe and Northern Asia. Perhaps they did benefit from gene exchanges with Neanderthals, while this became possible. At any rate, their technological tool set at that point was pretty close to complete, in terms of what we needed to go to and live pretty much any place in the world (long-term preservation of food by smoking, drying, and freezing, and living in and easily traveling through very cold areas land and sea with all of our required equipment and family members).

  3. "by all accounts and records ended in the demise of the people involved". I don't think that's necessarily true. The demise seems to have become assumed so as better fit a 'single origin' of modern humans. Hence the necessity to accept a "route taken later, about 60,000 years ago, [which] has clearly been established as southern and coastal".

  4. The climate did not favor another excursion north/northwestward until about 50,000 years ago. The entire area (Levant and much of present-day Turkey, Iraq, and Iran) was extremely dry, and also cold in the north during winters - very far removed from arriving AMHs comfort zone. Really not a very hospitable region for AMHs to survive and compete against well-adapted Neanderthals sporadically spilling southward. This clearly was not an area that could sustain a human population of any significant size (lager than a few hundred, or so), if any at all. And that just does not work well in isolation over 50,000 years.


Stay on topic. Be polite. Use facts and arguments. Be Brief. Do not post back to back comments in the same thread, unless you absolutely have to. Don't quote excessively. Google before you ask.