Neanderthals were no lumbering halfwits. It’s time to recognize their genius

Neanderthals have been the brunt of cruel jokes and the target of scientific and popular discrimination since the discovery of a Neanderthal skull cap in 1856 at Germany’s Feldhofer cave. It hasn’t helped that the first reasonably complete skeleton of a Neanderthal, found at La Chapelle aux Saints in southern France in 1908, was a toothless old man who suffered terribly from arthritis and other ailments. When first reconstructed and depicted by paleontologist Marcellin Boule, the skeleton was drawn stooped over and as if he was shuffling. The old marketing adage “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression” appears to ring true: Boule’s reconstruction remains remarkably influential even today.

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