Last night, watching a NOVA episode called “Decoding Neanderthals” I was reminded what a warm spot I have in my heart for this much maligned hominid. I was also reminded of my long search for a book I read in elementary school which was about a prehistoric girl and based on an actual archaeological discovery.
I am not totally sure why I feel a connection to Neanderthals beside the fact they have been treated as the underdog, ultimately killed off or outsmarted by the invasion our ancestors into the territory that had been their home for many thousands of years.
While watching this Nova episode, I learned that archaeologists have recently determined that the technology that Neanderthals used for creating tools was far more advanced and complex than had been believed. I found myself cheering for the Neanderthals, thinking that perhaps their tools which did not change much over a very long period of time did not change much because they were already very good tools and as they might have said in Neanderthal lingo, “if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.”
When testing was done to determine the % of Neanderthal DNA in people of different racial groups, I was angry on behalf of my beloved Neanderthals when one student said she hoped that she had “no more than 3% Neanderthal DNA.” That was exactly what she had, and she was, indeed relieved. I would have been hoping for a higher percentage for myself, had I been part of the study.
By the end of the program, I was proclaiming “Neanderthal Power!” as the experts speculated that they would soon be making a positive comeback in popular culture. That they might gain respectability in the hierarchy of hominids. And eventually calling someone a “cave man” would no longer be considered an insult.
Now to the book I have been looking for (and I invite your assistance in this search). My husband has spent untold hours in search of this book to no avail. I know that he has looked under every stone and in every cave he could find, but I am holding out hope that one or more of my bookish friends will remember this book or know something about it.
All of what I remember about this book this is based on a 50 year-year-old memory, so I can’t vouch for its veracity.
1. It was based on a true discovery of a Neanderthal* girl’s remains. She was buried with flowers (and possibly other grave goods, such as beads or other jewelry). The story was taken from the archaeological discovery and what was extrapolated from that discovery by the archaeologists and the author of the book.
2. It was a novel (juvenile or young adult).
3. I believe I read this book prior to 1967.
4. I think that when I read the book it was a new or fairly new book, probably less than 10 years old at the time I read it.
*The story may well have not been about a Neanderthal, but was a prehistoric hominid.