About 100,000 years ago Homo Erectus disappears, to be replaced by Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis, of an origin as uncertain as his prior ancestry but, as some Paleontologists say with all due reserve, possibly he was related to the former.
Again we find ourselves on that expressway which runs through human evolution and in which intermediary branches are lost. Family or not of Erectus, Neanderthal Man will live for 70,000 years, being the great protagonist of the Middle Paleolithic Age.
Considered until recently as a semi-bestial creature, modern investigations have vindicated as much his appearance as his culture. To him are credited the first funeral rites; he perfected techniques of hunting, the use of fire for illumination and a fair sense of social solidarity.
His physical appearance recalls that of Erectus but the cheek-bones and eyebrow arches are not as marked. His cranial capacity differs very little from ours, being superior in many cases.
Reconstruction made from skulls at Chapelle-aux-Saints (France)
and from the skull of Djebel Irhoud (Morocco).
The Madrid area is one of the European regions most preferred by this man, for its climate, much more tolerable than the rest of the Continent, and by the abundance of water, which supports a very rich fauna and flora
Generally, Neanderthal man lives in much the same areas as his forebears and pursues a similar pattern of life. As a difference from his homonymous European contemporaries, who must seek refuge in caves and natural shelters to protect themselves from prevailing cold weather, the Madrid Man needs little more than small coverts of branches to settle himself and to prepare for the incidents of hunting.
In these places he fabricates his tools, and when they are ready, he attends to the carving-up of prizes of his hunting. He cooks over fire, as is evidenced in our discoveries of ashes.
Settlements were in proportion to species of prey to be captured, giving thus two options: when the prey came out in search of food, it would be pursued by the whole band, or that only experienced hunters would go out, the rest remaining in base camp to await return of the hunting party, subsisting on small left-overs, fruit and wild roots. Surely, either plan would have been used, at will of the groups.
In the first picture, they were abandoning their heaviest tools to remake them in a new area. In the second, they kept their tools, creating for the archaeologist an irresolvable problem of not being able to calculate, even approximately, the numbers of inhabitants that lived in our territory in any given epoch.
It is impossible to know if two deposit-beds situated along the same hunting route belonged to different groups, or to the same one, driven out during a chase for prey.
In either case, the hunt created the first signs of hierarchy. The best hunters were those who brought the most resources to the clan and it is very likely that these enjoyed certain privileges. Also, it is possible that the need to bring in sufficient prey for subsistence, would make necessary defining territories with neighboring groups, allotting to each an area of action.
Nor is this Man unacquainted with funerary rites. In some burial sites, the cadavers are painted with a red ochre, the color of blood and of life, and at the same time the weapons of a deceased man are allocated beside him, as though wishing to prepare him to continue his activities in a life beyond the tomb.
The steps are unknown which brought Man to the idea of another existence. Perhaps death was questioned as something incomprehensible, to bring the mind then to imagine a transition into a new status.
Anthropologists think so because our forebears imputed life to all that surrounded them, allowing them to believe in reincarnation, although in some burials the cadaver is found in foetal position, tied up, perhaps to prevent his return to the world of the living. These are unknowns that add to our lack of knowledge of what they knew about human fecundity for they did not associate the sexual act with procreation.
It is supposed that they thought that women became enceinte by the protecting spirit of the clan, the totem, which was deposited in the female womb to perpetuate a group by creating new individuals. It cannot be confirmed that Neanderthal Man carried this belief. It was, however, well delineated in Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
If the hunt was the origin of mental coordinates much removed from other animal species, it was owing to an inventiveness developed by our forebears. They were heirs of efforts set in motion millions of years before them by the first hominids.
In the Middle Paleolithic Age, almost all techniques for the hunt are invented, with exception of the bow, arrows and launchers of javelins, which come at end of the Upper Paleolithic Period and in hands of Homo Sapiens Sapiens. All other weapons are much the same as those of past times, except in degrees of finishing and materials.
Neanderthal Men who lived in our lands relied on lances with a stone point or with a point hardened in fire. They had heavy percussion axes, double-bladed knives, chisels and scrapers to clean animal hides. It is possible they had discovered the sling as a weapon necessary in the launching of large rocks.
Their strategy was very experimental; we might be able to divide it into various categories:
done on foot, and against the wind to avoid discovery, and in this various individuals took part until holding the prey at bay;
done through tricks and camouflages;
- LYING IN WAIT:
consisting in waiting in ambush at a water-hole or narrow defile;
- BEATING, DRIVING:
a method later of Home Sapiens Sapiens, in which he harried an animal to bring it to a chasm or narrow pass of no outlet in order to finish it off;
one of the most ingenious methods, of the many artifices employed.
All these activities brought wounds and grievous pains which often degenerated into permanent handicaps. Rheumatism, arthritis and bone deformations were common currency among humans afflicted by hunting accidents.
Fractures of arms or legs, muscular sprains, amputations, involuntary wounds caused by companions in a game, are in the catalogue of daily events for these men, who have been painted for us always as robust athletes.
Social cohesion among the group was great, the clan caring for their weakest members, as is proven by findings of Neanderthals deceased at a certain age, and afflicted by lameness since childhood.
These would have stayed in camp while healthy-bodied went out on a hunt, and busy themselves alongside the women, to pick vegetable foods or take in game that didn't require much effort. Also, they would make weapons or tools and would care for children and the aged.
Mortality rate was very high. One third of those born never reached the age of twenty years, and almost all died before the age of forty to fifty. We have already mentioned their funerary rites; all members of the clan would attend, but would not surpass twelve to eighteen members, related to each other through sexual promiscuity.
As with Homo Habilis, no human remains of Neanderthal Man in the Madrid area have come down to us, although deposits of utensils are in abundance. These deposits are found in the most temperate region of the Community, near to stream-beds and occupying sedimentary sand-banks carried there by currents.
Some there are who take advantage of natural places of refuge on mid-slope of a hill, due to climatic changes in cold weather. In either case, they had no more than huts of branches, weighted by stones and roofed with clay or animal hides for protection from the rains.
The most representative culture is the Musteriensis, of the last period of the Middle Paleolithic. Findings are divided between axes, punches. knives and other tools.
Thirty thousand years ago, Neanderthal Man for unknown causes disappears. He could have been unable to adapt or was victim of degenerative diseases; we do not know what it was.
His life ends with the appearance of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, a human variety to which we belong, and which extends over all regions of the planet. They start the conquest of means of communication, of hunting activities, up to the discovery of agriculture, which was the only revolution ever undertaken by all of Humanity.
Refuge, in the Mid and Upper Paleolithic.
Homo Sapiens. Hunter.
Shows a scar on his side, and two amputations on a hand,
as testimony to a harsh life.
Two examples of settings of stone in wood, to form hoes or similar tools.
Dagger or scraper, made in the same technique.
The stone is joined to the wood with heated rosin,
and reinforced by vegetable fibers or leather.
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