Evolution is the heritable and acquired changes that take place over many generations. It interlinks the origin of humans with that of other animals, such as apes. This correlation creates a need for understanding ‘what makes us human’? Cultural practices and indifferences define the environmental concerns and possible genetic changes that occur in humans. Comparing Neanderthal and modern man (Homo sapiens), Abraham Maslow interlinks genetic determinism with natural evolution to understand what defines humans. However, anthropological, scientific, and religious beliefs and evidence evoke discrepancies in the origin of man. On an anthropological and scientific approach, Neanderthal has similarities and differences with the current human. In order to enhance the comparison between cranial and skull features, it is imperative to use theoretical models to analyze the cultural differences and similarities between Neanderthal and Homo sapiens. These models are cultural relativism and ethnocentrism; they provide evolutionary and cultural linkage between the two creatures. A comparison between Neanderthal and current human (Homo sapiens) speaks volumes of ‘what makes us humans.’
What makes us human?
The question ‘What makes us humans?’ is a perennial afterthought imposed by the Evo-curious individuals in society. Humans, scientifically Homo sapiens, are the only extinct members of the genus Homo, who have similar characteristics with other primates, especially apes. As indicated in Appendix 2 (Figure 8), humans differ from other animals on characters such as upright stance, brain size, and toes shape. To set clear borders between humans and other animals, it is important to capitalize on the rational, calculating machine and instinct-driven nature of apes and other creatures. Basing on natural evolution and genetic determinism, Abraham Maslow believes that nature determines what humans become as they grow. In this regards, humans cannot change to be something else or become animals due to the nomological notion of their nature. Evolution of human nature draws contradicting arguments based on the religious, cultural, and scientific idea on the origin of humans. For example, different communities have a divergent belief of how man was created, but most of them agree that a supernatural being created him. This view can be linked to the biblical contextualized belief on the creation of human by God. Nevertheless, scientific and anthropological evidence show divergence in regards to the origin of humans and what makes the existing creature a human.
Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) and Humans (Homo sapiens)
Anthropological evidence shows a similarity between humans, apes, and other animals, which is a sign of a single source of origin. Due to environmental and dietary changes, humans evolved to become the current Homo sapiens creatures. Neanderthal, scientifically Homo neanderthalensis, existed in Eurasia between 400,000 and 40,000 years ago. Neanderthal lived in caves, hunted for food, and kept domestic animals as a source of food, a character that was present in early hominids, and also not entirely extinct in the current modern man. On a different point, humans have a genetic resemblance to Homo neanderthalensis, with approximately 2% of DNA acquired from the latter. However, due to evolutionally measures, the genetic resemblance decreases from one generation to the other.
Regardless of the cave life and genetic resemblance, Neanderthal has distinct features from Homo sapiens. In comparison with humans, Neanderthal had prominent brows, receding chins, large noses, and protruding faces (Appendix 1: Figure 1, 2, and 6). The traits in the early man had developed to adapt to the environmental changes due to the cold in the Eurasia region where he lived (Appendix 1).Other differences include a large mental foreman, sloping forehead, broad nose, occipital bun, supraorbital ridge, large cranial capacity, flat basicranium, and suprainiac fossa. These features are absent, less present, or vestigial in current humans because they are not needed as was the case in the early man (Figure 8). Also, the current human has features that were not present in Neanderthal, such as mental protuberance, groove on canine teeth, and large neotenized skull. These features developed to facilitate Homo sapiens to adapt to the environmental changes in the modern world.
Evaluation of Neanderthal abilities
The similarities and differences in the cranial and body features of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis help in the assessment of cultural activities and theoretical perception of the evolution of man. The moral behavior and culture of Neanderthal man remain controversial, with multiple divergences in the view of the early man’s language, burial claims, tools, adornment, art, and diet. To address the controversy, cultural relativism aids in the understanding of Neanderthal’s beliefs, practices, and values based on his culture. However, it remains unclear whether Homo neanderthalensis talked or not since the remains of his vocal cords could not be preserved for long. Even so, genetic linkage and cranial arrangement showcase possible ability to communicate. Moreover, according to cultural relativism, Neanderthal may have had the ability to talk, a view that lacks sufficient evidence. Most importantly, cultural relativism does not rule out the ability of the early man to communicate but calls for a more established study on the subject.
Focusing on a different point of view, the association between Neanderthal’s culture and behavior lends more light on his burial practices and usage of tools. Ethnocentrism offers a purported belief in regards to the linkage of culture and preconceptions of standards and values of the specific culture. In this case, it is evident that Neanderthal used tools, observed diet, and worked on art and adornment works. His artwork interrelates with modern artworks, which is a cultural similarity between him and Homo sapiens. Moreover, the definitions and characters of culture in the Neanderthal era can be used to showcase the evolutional aspects of humans and possible linkage with other animals, usually the apes. Thus, theoretical models aid in the analysis of the interrelationship between Homo sapiens and Neanderthal’s cultural activities.
The current members of the genus Homo, humans, have a close association with the early man in terms of cultural activities. ‘What makes us humans?’ have been vastly addressed but not exhaustively to establish who humans are and why they behave the way they do. Nevertheless, the question stimulates the need for comparing Homo neanderthalensis with current Homo sapiens through genetic determinism and natural evolution. The two creatures had similarities in culture, way of living, and genetics, with a nuance of unique genetic resemblance. However, they differed in terms of cranial and other skull features that help them adapt to different environmental conditions. The cultural similarities and differences can be understood through a theoretical linkage of evidence with cultural relativism and ethnocentrism. More importantly, evidence shows that current human had evolved from Neanderthal.
Appendix 1: Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis)
Figure 1. Neanderthal La Chapelle-aux-Saints.
Figure 1. Neanderthal La Chapelle-aux-Saints. From Atelier Daynès reconstructions, by Élisabeth Daynès, n.d, http://www.daynes.com/en/hominids-reconstructions/neanderthal-la-chapelle-aux-saints-23.html. Copyright 2019 by E. Daynès. Reprinted with Permission.
Figure 2. Neanderthal Saint-Césaire
Figure 2. Neanderthal Saint-Césaire. From Atelier Daynès reconstructions, by Élisabeth Daynès, n.d, http://www.daynes.com/en/hominids-reconstructions/neanderthal-saint-cesaire-24.html. Copyright 2019 by E. Daynès. Reprinted with Permission.
Figure 3. Neanderthal Roc-De-Marsal
Figure 3. Neanderthal Roc-De-Marsal. From Atelier Daynès reconstructions, by Élisabeth Daynès, n.d, http://www.daynes.com/en/hominids-reconstructions/neanderthal-roc-de-marsal-26.html. Copyright 2019 by E. Daynès. Reprinted with Permission.
Figure 4. Neanderthal Devil’s Tower
Figure 4. Neanderthal Devil’s Tower. From Atelier Daynès reconstructions, by Élisabeth Daynès, n.d, http://www.daynes.com/en/hominids-reconstructions/neanderthal-devils-tower-27.html. Copyright 2019 by E. Daynès. Reprinted with Permission.
Figure 5. Neanderthal ShanidarFigure 5. Neanderthal Shanidar. From Atelier Daynès reconstructions, by Élisabeth Daynès, n.d, http://www.daynes.com/en/hominids-reconstructions/neanderthal-shanidar-44.html. Copyright 2019 by E. Daynès. Reprinted with Permission.
Figure 6. Neandertal male in profile, based on La Ferressie 1.
Figure 6. Neandertal male in profile, based on La Ferressie 1. From Homo neandertalensis., by John Gurche Paleo, n.d, https://gurche.com/homo-neanderthalensis. Copyright 2019 by John Gurche Paleo. Reprinted with Permission.
Appendix 2: Modern Human (Homo sapiens)
Figure 7. Homo sapiens in Romania 35,000 years ago
Figure 7. Homo sapiens in Romania 35,000 years ago. From Homo sapiens, by John Gurche Paleo, n.d, https://gurche.com/homo-nsapiens. Copyright 2019 by John Gurche Paleo. Reprinted with Permission.
Figure 8. Skeletons of chimpanzee, Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus africanus and Homo sapiens males
Figure 8. Skeletons of chimpanzee, Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus africanus and Homo sapiens males. From Homo sapiens, by John Gurche Paleo, n.d, https://gurche.com/homo-nsapiens. Copyright 2019 by John Gurche Paleo. Reprinted with Permission.
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