Neandertals, early humans who appeared first in Europe about 150,000 years ago, were not brutish primitives, as was long believed, but strong, intelligent hominids who crafted sophisticated stone tools. Shreeve, coauthor with famed paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of Lucy's Child, pieces together an absorbing speculative portrait of Neandertals, buttressed by interviews with geneticists, anthropologists and archeologists in France, Israel, Zaire, South Africa and the former Czechoslovakia. He suggests that Neandertals possessed rudimentary language and recognized nature spirits but that the males and females lived apart, mateless. By contrast, early modern hunter-gatherers evolved a "sex contract" whereby women secured for themselves the continuing economic services of a spouse. Shreeve also ponders why Neandertals dwindled to extinction around 30,000 years ago, after apparently coexisting with more anatomically advanced humans for tens of thousands of years in the Near East. He deduces that language played a key role in the intergroup cooperation that led to Upper Paleolithic humans' sudden creative explosion in symbol, art and technology some 40,000 years ago.
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