am 19. März 2013
The title “How the Ice Age gave birth to the first modern humans” is misleading because in other parts of the world there were modern humans too. In case the title reads “… first modern humans in Europe” I could agree. As interesting and as valuable Fagan’s book is, e.g. to see the history of humans unfold in Europe, as disturbing is the Eurocentric view of the author. Provided one accepts that Fagan’s approach is in many regards not scientific, then I find the book is a good an entertaining read.
When Cro-Magnons migrated into Europe from the Near East, there was already another form of humans - the Neanderthals, a parallel European development from Homo heidelbergensis. Modern humans did not evolve from them – they were not direct ancestors. Fagan describes the Neanderthals as the "Quiet People" because he claims, they lacked fluent speech, and he continues that they also lacked symbolism, religion, art and innovation. It is not clear on what basis Fagan makes these assumptions. Also the statement, that the way of life of the Neanderthals was unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years, is not correct. They showed, as far as we know from genetic data, a greater variability as Homo sapiens today. Apparently their varying bodily constitution was an answer to different environmental conditions over times and geographies. Any statement about symbolism, religion and art being absent or different should not lead to the conclusion that other “humans” were or are inferior.
It is a fact that hundred thousands of years Neanderthals and their predecessors lived in Europe (and elsewhere), and survived as a people most of the dramatic climatic changes. If Fagan is allowed to speculate then I take the liberty to speculate too. The Neanderthals were probably many times on the brink of extinction because of drastic changes in their environment as regards climate and food resources. And there were no modern humans around as later when they faced their final fate. Homo heidelbergensis vanished and Homo neanderthalensis appears on the scene in Europe. Does that mean the Neanderthals were more advanced and displaced the former? Do we have to assume that the entire population of Heidelberg men turned into Neanderthals? We can only speculate about the fate of either population!
Neanderthals buried their dead but the burials do not show what importance the dead had for them. There are and were undoubtedly intelligent and modern humans who share this planet with us Europeans, who did not show the same care for the dead as the ancient Europeans – or the evidence of their care e.g. the burial objects are subject to relatively fast decay.
Furthermore, Fagan’s conclusion that Neanderthals did not possess fluent speech, based among others on the long unchanged history of the tool industry in Europe, is a bit strange. Otherwise they would have been able to discuss what they had been doing for thousands of years, and as a consequence would have implemented substantial changes and improvements? The same tool industry was used virtually unchanged also by pre-modern and modern humans e.g. in the Near East for thousands of years, and no one questions their ability for articulate speech.
Reading the historical record correctly one comes to the conclusion, that changes of the circumstances under which Neanderthals lived, be it climate, food resources and/or perhaps the arrival of modern competitors for the a.m. brought about their demise. We have no proof of direct confrontations. The oldest cave paintings from El-Castillio (40.000BCE) to Chauvet (32.000BCE), when Neanderthals still lived in Europe, are depictions of animals of those days and people at hunt, but never give us information about potential belligerent conflicts let alone encounters with Neanderthal contemporaries. If the latter were indeed so different and caused either fear or delight upon meeting them, I am pretty sure the artful cave painters would have captured it. So the question remains how often there had been encounters between the two human forms?
In essence there is only one valid observation and everything else is speculation: the modern humans still exist globally, in some geographies their tool industries are more advanced than in others. Their cultures and expression in art are different, but their mental capabilities are the same. Other human forms as Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Denisovans and Homo floresiensis, whose mental capabilities we don’t know, died out without letting us know if they were as intelligent as their contemporaries.
am 5. Juni 2011
Cro Magno beschreibt wie sich die verschiedenen Eiszeitkulturen Europas im Zuge eines sich ständig wandelnden Klimas herausbildeten.
Hat Fagan bereits in früheren Büchern den Einfluss des Klimas auf die Zivilisation beschrieben (The Little Ice Age , The Great Warming, Fish on Friday), so tut er dies hier mit gewohnter erzählerischer Stärke ohne den Leser mit zu vielen Beispielen zu erschlagen.
Beginnend mit dem Neanderthaler und Enden mit der Magdalenien Kultur versucht Fagan dem Leser das Leben in der Steinzeit vorstellbar zu machen. Dies gelingt ihm hervorragend.
Um sich besser in das Thema einzufinden, ist das Buch mit Informationsblöcken bereichert, in denen dem Leser Methoden der Archäologie genauer erklärt werden. Der Haupttext steht dabei unabhängig und kann ohne die Blöcke gelesen und verstanden werden.
So ist das Buch eine Bereicherung für den Leser, der sich bereits einen Zugang erlesen hat, als auch für einen Neueinsteiger.