A lot of our prejudices about neanderthals come from our somewhat mistaken interpretation of the fossil record. When the first neanderthal skeleton was recorded by scientists in the mid 1800s, the conclusion they came to was it must have been a bowlegged Slavic person whose brow seemed furrowed because he was in a lot of pain. Yeah, that’s how they explained the pronounced brow on the skull they found.
Nearly every neanderthal skeleton discovered since then was marked by some gruesome injury or violent cause of death, particularly around the head and neck. A small sample a few years ago originally found that significantly more Neanderthal remains were marked by this kind of violence than the other non-neanderthal species that were alive at the same time.
But recent work challenges us to unstick those assumptions from our brain...and provides the science to back it up. As paleontology advances, we simply have so many more skeletons and artifacts to work with--there’s more of the picture to see. And the more we see, the more we realize that our earlier ideas may have just been due to sampling bias.
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