Digging Down

When remains of a different human species, Neanderthals, were first identified in Europe, they were seen as brutish, stupid “cavemen”. One early find of a skeleton of an old man with arthritis, who could not stand up straight, was misinterpreted to conclude that no Neanderthals could stand upright! Even some twelve years ago I remember it being asserted on a scientific programme that Neanderthals had no art – but since two pieces have been discovered that can hardly be interpreted except as a carving of an animal head and a kind of lute. Then they were inflexible in their food-gathering methods and had a limited diet – but that seems less true now.

One long debate has finally been settled. Did Neanderthals, who developed in Europe and spread, as far as we know, only as far as Iraq, ever interbreed with Homo sapiens spreading out of Africa? Genetic scientists have now established they did, and very early in our species’ spread out of Africa, so all present-day humans except pure Africans carry some Neanderthal genes. The other long debate has been over why Neanderthals went extinct. It now looks as if massive climate change hit them hard, and though they might have adapted and hung on till things changed again, the niches they might have moved into were now occupied by sapiens.

Whether our species attacked and killed them on any scale, we just don’t know. My notion is that some of our myths of semi-human creatures might have roots in memories of Neanderthals and perhaps even earlier hominids. Trolls seem to be quite a good fit.

I feel immense sorrow that we’ve lost the music and the thoughts of the Neanderthals.


I have found an old guilt:

By scrabbling in the dirt with callused hands

Brushing away the low lying deposits

Stories of murderous giant and cackling troll

Caressing away the grime I find the skull

It grins at me as if to say: what I lost

You lost, my killer friend.

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  1. Caddo Veil

     /  December 1, 2011

    My goodness, this struck a sharp and loud chord!! Thanks very much for the great work! You’re welcome to visit my place, though it may not be your cup of tea…I’ll stop by again. God bless you!

  2. Caddo Veil

     /  December 2, 2011

    Hello again–I can’t find your “about” page, so I’ll just use this to say that I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. If you’re unfamiliar with it, please visit my blog to see details! Bye for now.

    • Thanks, Caddo. In my replies somewhere I told Neel, who also nominated me, that I would struggle to meet the requirement to find fifteen bloggers to nominate, but if I do, you’ll certainly be one.

      The about page must be somewhere. I note that one of the better read items is “Simon Banks” and I haven’t written a poem of that title!

      I’m not a great friend of awards and honours – Quakers tend to be against them, I’m a Quaker and it’s my gut feeling too – but I can go with them if they have a practical purpose, and as I’m trying to build up my poetry blog viewing figures for practical reasons (publication), this seems to qualify.

      I have another blog, by the way, for everything else but imaginative writing: http://sibathehat.blogspot.com. I suppose I could nominate Siba The Hat!


      Why Caddo, by the way?

  3. Love the troll analogy!

  4. Thanks, Neel. I’m not sure it is just an analogy. Human myths are full of semi-human creatures. These myths clearly go a very long way back. It’s quite possible that some represent our memory of other humanoids, creatures that would have both fascinated and frightened us when we first met them. These memories would then be revived and enhanced by experience of other very different members of our own species, for example hunter-gatherers displaced by invading farming people.


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