The Tall Thin Tribe, or Musings on Neanderthals and Pre-Historical Myth

So most of us all have a little neanderthal in us? I find this really fascinating. Here we have a story of an ancient, well-established human species that set themselves up for habitat in a harsh Ice Age. They were built to survive. They had their own language, spirituality and culture and tool making.  Perhaps not as imaginative as us, but nonetheless they were human beings. We newcomers stepped into their lands and mingled with them, brought them new ideas and culture.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for the Neanderthals to witness these strange, tall dark and thin tribes entering their lands. Who were these odd humans with their exquisite bodily decorations, & new tools? It’s good to know that we didn’t simply wipe them out, but nevertheless I am reminded of how the Native Americans encountered the Europeans.

Pre-history reflects known history, as we have the meeting of the ancient with the novel. It may have been a mix of peaceful co-existence, coupled with competition for resources. Humans established themselves well at the end of the ice age, and these over specialized Neanderthals were literally absorbed into our tribes and cultures as their Era came to an end. As we stepped in, they began to fade out.

I am sure we learned from them, though, and probably very quickly. They might have shown us how to survive in those harsh winter lands as we brought them exquisite art and imagination. This is not to say they didn’t have culture! It seems, however, that they did not take the imaginative leap that the homo-sapien-sapiens did. We were the late bloomers.

Neanderthals had larger brains, interestingly, yet not as rich a culture as we. Was most of their brain power put into survival? They were shorter, stockier, built to be tough and survive in the cold. Is this where most of their energy and adaptation went into? This may be the case, but I also find it fascinating that these beings were the first to leave the African Nest. We appear to have remained behind for a long time (going through our own trials) before we stepped off the continent. Did their larger brains play a part in this early-exodus? Give them the “head start” (pun intended) to brave the frontier?

I find it fascinating that Neanderthals, as well as earlier hominids, made the jump out of Africa and can be found living in other places of the world. We weren’t the first to leave, not by a long shot, but the pattern of hominids leaving Africa and spreading into new environments is something we share with our ancestors.

Evolution appears to reverberate with a Teilhardian theme: one of a “groping” towards Mind. As each hominid exits Africa, the image that we get is a series of evolutive “waves,” each one overlapping the other in a gradual leap across the pond towards Mind. I don’t think it’s pure chance that the successive waves of hominids and humans from Africa follow this pattern. Each one slightly either “more” successful or equally successful in its own way, each one necessary to give way to the next mutation. Not a linear progression but much more like a series of branches unfolding and moving towards the sun. Teilhard would argue that while these beings were like the many necessary first branches, we were the latent trunk that had finally begun to shoot for the sky.

Myth, Evolution & Ancient Memories

I wonder if many creation mythologies hold in them a racial memory of neanderthals and other hominids we crossed on our journey out of Africa. Evidence suggests we co-existed with them for a (long) time. Imagine being an early human and seeing these similar beings that already exist in the foreign lands you enter. Many mythologies have stories of humanity being created as an imperfect process. Certain things needed to be changed and re-created. From the Popol Vuh’s story of humans made of mud and wood, to the Hopi myth on how the gods created us, but then needed to give us speech. Keep in mind the excluded Biblical tales of God creating first Lilith, then Eve for an unsatisfied Adam.

Does myth contain within it certain prehistorical and evolutive memories? Reflecting on their similarities and differences to us, perhaps our encounters with other hominids set the embryonic form of historical creation myths. These myths exist in a place where science, evolution and imagination overlap.

The Hopi speech myth reverberates with what we know about hominids and their more limited language capacities. Early humans incorporated clicks and other sounds where there was not yet the vocal cords to speak as later humans would be able to do. This is not to say that such languages are inferior, but instead to show how our early ancestors were actually highly creative, using exactly what they had available to them.

Our exodus from Eden is also an interesting story with many different interpretations. As a myth, it may reflect our ability to be more conscious and self-reflective. Suddenly we were no longer embedded in nature. Thompson argues this has to do with our shift from the jungle to the Savannah, and our subsequent shift in sexuality to the menstrual cycle. It may also be about humanity’s early trials during a climate upheaval that nearly drove us to extinction. Was this our “exodus?”

Myth can have many meanings and reflect multiple things, because it exists in a place outside of literal interpretation or pure fantasy. Woven within the imagination, we have the ability to understand more than we are consciously aware of. It is a way of nature, the universe, the cosmos and even the divine, to speak to us. The “boat” over which we cross the sea of the unknown.

Weaving myth, biology and anthropology together in one tapestry is an important practice when one wants to understand the evolution of consciousness—which we could definitely say extends beyond any one species. It is part of the story of life on Earth. Having a comfortable space where we are not afraid of placing mythological narratives placed next to scientific ones allows us to introduce a “third,” alternative space, where we can discover underlying patterns and archetypal themes that were not evident if we were looking strictly within one context or another.

So to conclude with our tapestry: we have Teilhard’s organic progression of forms in life’s stride towards Mind, the historical and evolutive pattern of the novel becoming the ancient & succeeded by the novel again (waves, expansion and contraction), anthropological evolution of language & culture, the Hopi and Mayan human creation myths.

I believe we can at least consider one of the archetypal themes is the pattern of the life-cycle. The new explodes into the world, overtaking older layers. Eventually becoming the established layer itself, it succumbs to new forms and new seasons of life. This is a common thread, I believe, throughout evolution, with a definite fugue or symphonic like quality to it. The emergence and evolution of consciousness is more like a song which has many layers, some create a base for which further layers may unfold, all necessary, and extended in a qualitative time that is not a neat linear progression (there is direction as “flow” and not linear succession). A cosmic song that we play out in history, in evolution, in mythology. Is this the same song that the mystics hear playing creation? If so, then we may have found it here in the densest forms, in time and space itself, the divine song can be heard! Something to consider!

Thanks for reading!

-Jer

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2 thoughts on “The Tall Thin Tribe, or Musings on Neanderthals and Pre-Historical Myth

  1. Jer… Culture feeds on the Myth; the story that shows the process unfolding. Without the Myth how would we ever know for sure, the great path of process we’ve journeyed? You’ve done a wonderful job contributing to the story of our times; the mythology we are creating right now of evolution and consciousness… that we are not separate from the process, not even a part of it, we ARE the process. We are unfolding from the big bang, to neanderthal, to now, and is in us for sure. “The emergence and evolution of consciousness is more like a song which has many layers…”- I hear a song of REAL freedom, that says we have always been free to create and add on more layers. Would you agree that the composer of the song is the Life Process (life-cycle)? It lulls us into alignment with It, pure consciousness. And when the audience astutely pays attention, which the process desperately needs us to do–it frees the process to create like the virtuoso. This is a really great read.

  2. I’ve been researching Neanderthal man for some time. I run a page on fb about the Celts and megalithic cultures/Pre- Celtic. I recently dedicated a day to Neanderthals possibly being in oral traditions in Europe and the middle east. One of the oral tales is about the Fomorians a ancient race of giants in Ireland who typically
    were single limbed and one eyed. The Neanderthal died out 24 500 years ago in Spain. The Iberians were the Celts of Spain who came to Ireland around the 6 th century BCE. I wondered if the Iberian Celts had heard oral traditions about different peoples of stories passed down tens of thousands of years. So far no fosdils of Neanderthal have been found in Ireland but in Britain they have and at one time 10000 years ago and more it was not seperatrd by the Atlantic and north sea from continentalEurope. Neanderthal possesed what would seem super human strength. They could crush a stone in their hands. The Titans of Greece the Fomorii and many more may fit the Neanderthal description on some level changed no doubt over many many years. The same can be said for the great flood. Many cultures have it in their traditions and sea levels rose quite quickly after the ice receeded 10000 years ago. Anyways thank you for the post.
    Jason..

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