Neanderthals: The Great Species

NeanderthalsI have a confession to make…I’m obsessed with Neanderthals. I mean OBSESSED. And when I say Neanderthals, I of course mean the actual Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, not some ridiculous and insulting marketing campaign for an insurance company.

Have you ever stopped to consider it? The idea that there was an entire race of (by some theories) highly intelligent bipedal creatures walking around in veritable parallel to our own species? It has always been a mindblowing concept to me. Think about all of the movies, books, comics, and TV shows that center around humanity coming in contact with alien sapient life from other worlds when…well…there existed such life on this planet already, in reality, just mere thousands of years ago. Hell, we even interbred with them (there’s a part of me that considers that kinda sexy, admittedly)!

And in fact, my obsession with Neanderthals (properly pronounced Neander-TALLS, not Neander-THALS) starts, ironically in the realm that alien life usually gets explored: Science Fiction.

I suppose my “first contact” with the excitement around the now lost to history possibilities of Neanderthals was from one of my favorite books series: William Shatner’s Quest for Tomorrow. I recommend all of the books in the series, but one of the (many) interesting ideas it laid out was that Neanderthals were actually a telepathic species (which was a way of explaining why–according to genuine science–they didn’t evolve verbal skills as well as Homo sapiens sapiens did)! And of course aliens used Neanderthals to interbreed with other species across the universe to “inject” telepathic capabilities in races that had none, initially. What a plot point!

Not that it was the first time someone contemplated this in fiction. John Darnton’s 1996 classic work of fiction, Neanderthal, also played with the idea that Neanderthals were telepathic, but in this case there were no aliens involved, just a tribe of Neanderthals that lived on to our present day in the mountains of Afghanistan…telepathy and all. It’s a solid read, and one of the better works of speculative fiction in relatively recent memory.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. I want to share with you a list of books on the subject–fiction and non-fiction–that I consider to be the best of the breed (pun intended). I think Neanderthals are a fascinating subject that may have a lot to say about who we are as humans, even today. And let’s face it, as 23andMe has proved, many of us have Neanderthal genetics…and why wouldn’t we want to know about our genetic ancestors? But more than genetics, maybe within the cracks of history, there are stories, concepts, ideas, and perhaps even terrors that can speak to how we as humans arrived in our present state of affairs.

And again, the list below is just the beginning of the subject. There many books I have to read, and I’m sure many more to come. Enjoy!

  1. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans by Brian Fagan (Non-fiction)
  2. The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived by Clive Finlayson (Non-fiction)
  3. Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante Pääbo (Non-fiction)
  4. The Neanderthals Rediscovered, How Modern Science is Rewriting Their Story by Dimitra Papagianni and Michael A Morse (Non-fiction)
  5. Neanderthal by John Darnton (Fiction)
  6. Neanderthal: Neanderthal Man and the Story of Human Origins by Paul Jordan (Non-fiction)
  7. Neanderthals Revisited by Katerina Harvati (Non-fiction)
  8. Masters of the Planet by Ian Tattersall (Non-fiction)

[BONUS BOOK SERIES: Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series is an incredible series of fiction dealing with primitive humanity, and includes their coexistence with Neanderthals. Easily one of my favorite book series of all time, there really is nothing else quite like it out there, particularly that deals so much with what it must have been like in the paleolithic world. If you’ve never read them, you might want to start here as far as reading to build up excitement for the rest of the books listed above.]

So there you have it. A short list, to be sure, but one that would take a while to tear through. There are many other books on the subject, and much of which comes out as contradictory at times, but pieces that come together are so tantalizing, in my opinion, that they’re all worthy reads.

And as some scientists have claimed in recent years, perhaps Neanderthals will one day make a return….

Carpe lucem!