Juan Luis Arsuaga

Neanderthal Necklace (Coll. Poche) Our Ancestors of the Ice Age Publication date : May 7, 2004

Neanderthal man, a human type parallel to our own, was the dominant form on the European continent for thousands of years. Like our Cro-Magnon ancestors — Homo Sapiens, who originally came from Africa — Neanderthal men made tools, possessed language and practised funerary rites. They could therefore be regarded as “human”, not only because they belonged to the same category as we do in the evolutionary process, but also because they had achieved other aspects of development: culture, beliefs and feelings. The rivalry between Neanderthal man and Homo Sapiens lasted for thousands of years during the European Ice Age. Their conflict is told here by Juan Luis Arsuaga, one of Europe’s most eminent pre-historians, who has made several significant discoveries concerning Neanderthal man. Why did the stronger, better adapted Neanderthal become extinct, while our ancestors flourished? How can this critical phase in human development be explained? The tragic story of the extinction of this species — so like and yet unlike our own — can help us to understand our human strengths and assets: our inventiveness and our capacity to adapt to adverse conditions, our will to survive and to master our environment, and our ability to handle symbols. It would seem that we are here because Neanderthal man is dead...

Juan Luis Arsuaga is a professor of palaeontology at the University of Madrid and a lecturer at University College London. He is in charge of the research team that has been working on Pleistocene remains in the Sierra de Atapuerca, one of Spain’s most important prehistoric sites. He has been awarded many national and international prizes and is a contributor to numerous scientific magazines, including the prestigious Journal of Human Evolution.