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Conceiving of “Them” When Before There Was Only “Us”

  • Melanie L. ChangEmail author
  • April Nowell
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Abstract

Questions of identity are fundamental to even the most empirical of human evolutionary studies. These questions structure the hypotheses that we, as researchers, test in ways that we, as actors embedded in specific societal contexts, may not always be entirely aware of. Whether we approach the Neandertals as if they represent “Us” or “Them” is an important distinction, because it informs the framing of our null hypotheses. A heart-centered approach to the study of our evolutionary past that rejects the subject/object dichotomy can free us to recognize that the emotional resonance inherent in human evolutionary studies can be as much a strength of our discipline as a weakness. Viewing the Middle to Late Pleistocene record through this lens allows us to formulate hypotheses that follow logically from granting Neandertals a fundamental humanity and are not less testable than hypotheses formulated under the assumption that the Neandertals were not fundamentally human. We argue that it may be both enlightening and productive to expect cognitive and behavioral similarities between Neandertals and modern humans, rather than differences.

Keywords

Neandertals Paleolithic Symbolism Personal ornaments Pop culture 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Portland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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