What is it about Neanderthal, or as I like to call him, Uncle Neander?
Supposedly he’s been rehabilitated. He was once known as a knuckle-dragger, a thick-browed ape-man who literally hit on his girlfriend by knocking her out with a club.
Recently, scientists have shown Neanderthal was a more sophisticated, adaptive and compassionate hominid than we previously believed. Neanderthal families cared for the sick, buried the dead, crafted houses of mammoth bones, maybe even built boats to colonize distant islands. Apparently they made glue out of birch bark, a process so difficult scientists have had trouble replicating it in the lab.
And hey, they may even be related to us through inter-marriage or inter-clubbing, it seems we have some of Neanderthal DNA in our genes.
So why does Neanderthal still get razzed by Homo sapienites? If you check out the latest news items about Uncle N, amid the latest findings in the lab or the field, you’ll find comments like the article in the British Daily Mail about “heavyweight Neanderthals,” disgraceful boxers who treat the sport with callous, cynical, self-serving disregard.
Sure, nobody likes disgraceful boxers. But why tar Neanderthal with the brush of callous cynicism?
In the old days, people would toss off derogatory remarks about minority groups or gay people. They can’t get away with that any more. But writers who don’t know any better still regularly defame my Uncle Neander.
Maybe it’s because (they believe) he’s not around any more to defend himself. But lots of his relatives are. And we think people who use the ancient N-word without thinking may be guilty of callous cynicism themselves.