Saturday, February 20, 2010


This afternoon I was watching pro golfers Paul Casey from England and Camilo Villegas from Columbia battling it out in semi-final match play for the opportunity to go against Ian Poulter of England for the championship and - no offense, guys - I started thinking about Neandertals.

(Some may wonder why I didn't spell it Neanderthals, after the German valley in which the first bones were found in 1856. It turns out that modern writers use the "t" rather than the "th" simply because the German language now pronounces it that way. Tal, rather than Thal. Don't worry about it.)

But the fact remains that us humans have spent the last 150 years or so smugly thinking that Neandertals lost out in the race to continue because, simply, they weren't smart enough. We thought of them as "cave men," apelike folks, no competition for our ancestors.

Yet new studies would differ. Neandertals, who lived generally from 100,000 to near-civilized human times, whose remains have been found not only in Europe but North Africa and the Middle East, and - only some 20- or 25-thousand years ago - have been found to have been living in cliff caves below Gibraltar - apparently were damn smart.

Recent studies have demonstrated that Neandertals made exquisite earrings and other jewelry out of various painted sea shells. Which implies that they didn't go extinct because they were dumb cave dwellers. Like our ancestors, they were capable of symbolic thought. They apparently had brains that could burst into imagination and creativity. They buried their dead, engaged in religious rites, and lasted for tens of thousands of years through an ice age. Who knows, they may even have been able, had it been invented, to play golf.

And they disappeared. The point, I thought as I watched a couple of the greatest golfers in the world, is that we could disappear, too.

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