What happened, the title of Hilary Clinton’s recent book, was not a question. Had it been, I’d have offered the following answer, based on evidence from an article I read quite a long time ago in my newspaper.
First, though, when I write the word ‘Neanderthal’ what springs to mind? I know that readers of the AE blog are cultured sophisticates whose only prejudices concern grammatical issues and linguistic niceties but, for at least some of you, I’d guess that, despite your determination to avoid it, there might be some speciesism in your reaction. You’ll see creatures of indeterminate gender with no foreheads who sit in caves grunting monosyllables and tearing raw meat from bones with their prognathous jaws. Perhaps now and then, one will stand, rise to his (this one’s a male) full height of 4 feet 10, club a neighbouring creature (this one will be a female), and drag her off to procreate. The more enlightened among you will probably envision noble savages sitting around a fire listening to their equivalent of Brahms.
|Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|
Bizarrely, the Brahms faction may be nearer the truth because, according to the article, it seems that Neanderthals wore make-up. Not only that, they also made bracelets and necklaces. For me this is a welcome discovery because something about illustrations of Neanderthals going about their business has always puzzled me. We see them sitting among their scraps of meat and discarded bones looking, frankly, not unlike straightforward apes. There’s no sign of a shower cubicle in the recesses of the cave, no shelves, not even any dishes to put on them. And yet, and yet… they’ve taken the trouble to fashion, out of skins and fur, things resembling skirts. Why? Did they have a rudimentary Bible which told them about Adam biting the apple, noticing that either Eve or himself was malformed and covering up the bits that had gone wrong? Why does someone content to eat raw meat and show affection by clubbing a woman feel embarrassed about his genitalia? Was the obsession about size already a factor? It’s always been a disturbing riddle, a profound mystery simmering insolubly in our past.
Well, not any more. If they wore make-up, they must have been more self-aware than we imagine. They cared about their appearance because (as the journalist noted in his article), ‘they were worth it’. All homo sapiens did was daub graffiti on his walls. Neanderthals, however, decorated themselves, they were proud of their appearance. So pre-history will have to be rewritten and, consequently, our evolutionary notions of our own origins must be modified. Look at today’s TV, our celebrities, our icons – for the most part they consist of appearances. I don’t mean at openings of galleries, first nights at the opera or red carpet premieres, I mean they are what they look like – beautiful, painted constructs, wrapped in luscious fabrics.
And so to the evidence on which my thesis depends. While it would be stretching a point to call today’s leader of the Western world beautiful, his barely comprehensible grunts, the artificial tones of his epidermis, his brow-concealing coiffure, his treatment of women, his aggressive preference for violent solutions, and his general overall brutishness betray a lineal descent which is clearly not from homo sapiens.
The more one follows this line of argument the more persuasive it becomes. It’s evident in most of the alpha male images of Putin and conveyed also by those old daguerreotypes of Bush and Blair at Camp David. Random, unthinking violence is still preferred to reasoned debate, and as long as things look right, they are right. For those of us who are puzzled by the apparent lack of progress in the promised perfectibility of humankind, we can stop worrying – we were looking in the wrong direction. Forget Brahms. Think Homo neanderthalensis.