It's time to stand up for the ape-men : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

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It's time to stand up for the ape-men

Finally, after four million years of progress, human evolution has not only stopped, but gone into reverse: I am living proof. For according to a report in the tabloids last week, new research shows that people who spend all day hunched over their computers are developing the posture of the knuckle-grazing Neanderthals of 35,000 years ago.

Not just their posture, one might add: as a user of Microsoft Windows, I routinely hit my computer with a violence that would make even the most aggressive of my primordial cousins step back.

I need to watch my step, though: it is no longer politically correct to make jokes about the behaviour of Neanderthals. Over the last decade or so, a new generation of palaeoanthropologists has emerged promoting Neanderthals as a caring, sharing race of humanoids who looked after their elderly.

Certainly it is no longer acceptable to describe them as morons - but that has less to do with political correctness than with an embarrassing blunder made by a leading French anatomist many years ago.

Following the discovery of the first Neanderthal skeleton in 1857, by quarrymen working in a cave in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, a controversy broke out over whether the bones came from an extinct form of humanoid or from a grotesquely deformed modern man.

Advocates chose their stance more or less according to whether they supported Darwin's newly-published theory of evolution. Believers fell into the extinct humanoid camp, while anti-Darwinists espoused the ugly-hermit-in-a-cave theory.

It was a debate into which scientists from many disciplines felt qualified to wade - often to risible effect. Thus Rudolf Virchow, the German pathologist and virulent anti-Darwinist, argued that the bones came from a man who had suffered rickets as a child, head injuries in middle age, and arthritis in his dotage.

Those who felt most qualified to pronounce on the bones were, not unnaturally, anatomists, but they too usually just followed their preconceptions. Thus Professor Mayer, of Bonn University, believed he could make out similarities with Mongolian skulls, together with hints of the type of bone disease one gets by eating only potatoes.

The debate rattled on until 1921 and the publication of Les Hommes Fossiles by the distinguished French anatomist Marcellin Boule. Following a detailed study of a skeleton found in France in 1908, Boule believed he was able to reach a definitive conclusion based on both anatomical science and Darwin's theory of evolution: the skeleton showed that Neanderthals were indeed primitive ape-like creatures with a shambling, stooping gait similar to that of an orang-utan.

Whatever else they were, he added, Neanderthals were quite unrelated to humans. It was, he said, inconceivable that Darwinian evolution could have bridged so many anatomical differences in the relatively brief period of time separating us from them.

For the next 30 years, Boule's pronouncements were regarded as the last word on the subject. But in 1955, the French palaeoanthropologist Camille Arambourg pointed out a feature of the skeleton that Boule had unaccountably overlooked: the bones showed signs of severe osteoarthritis.

This was subsequently confirmed by others, who also noted that the spine of the skeleton was particularly badly affected. And one does not need to be a leading anatomist to know that osteoarthritis can give even the most ramrod-backed ex-guardsman a stooping posture.

Boule had made the mistake of basing his conclusions on a single Neanderthal skeleton. We now know that Neanderthals were fine, upstanding individuals who co-existed - and perhaps even interbred - with modern humans until 35,000 years ago.

Why they disappeared remains a mystery. But hardly less baffling is why the myth of Neanderthals as knuckle-dragging morons is still routinely trotted out, half a century after it was debunked.

The Sunday Telegraph


There's absolutely no mistake about the throwbacks of OZ - they dwell in Parliament House, Canberra. I've been priviledged to meet many Honorable Members and affirm their knuckles do reach down much further than normal. This has caused momentary pause among us commentators who are quite baffled at the regular contortions they daily do make. We seem to have a surplus of ape-men, so, do you want any in America?

Regards from Down Under

-- Pieter (, June 20, 2000


No thank you, Pieter. We we seem to have an overabundance of them here already. (Are we not men? We are DEVO!)

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), June 20, 2000.

What ever happened to Piltdown Man?

-- Question Man (Qman@too.many.questions), June 21, 2000.

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