An insult to the Neanderthal

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I think Tim Sanders's and Keith Flett's rendering of Chris Harman's A People's History of the World in cartoon form should be congratulated for bringing this masterly work to an audience that would not necessarily attempt to read a 620 page book.

However, I feel I must take issue with the depiction of a "prehistoric Jeremy Clarkson" described as "slightly less Neanderthal than the current one" (Cartoon, Socialist Review, September 2007).

The Neanderthal or Homo neanderthalensis was a species of the Homo genus that inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia between 130,000 and 33,000 and 24,000 years ago. They are often depicted as stupid, clumsy or sub-human.

The word "neanderthal" is sometimes used as an insult, to suggest that a person combines a deficiency of intelligence and an attachment to brute force, as well as implying the person is old fashioned or attached to outdated sexist or racist ideas. Yet the Neanderthal had tool kits consisting of sophisticated stone-flakes, task-specific hand axes and spears.

Though popular literature has tended to greatly exaggerate their ape-like gait it has been determined that some of the earliest specimens found in fact suffered from severe arthritis. The Neanderthals were fully bipedal and had a slightly larger average brain capacity than a typical modern human.

Neanderthals lived in a society without class divisions. As Chris Harman himself says, they "cooperated with each other to procure the means of livelihood" and there was no "male dominance as we know it".

Using the word Neanderthal as an adjective to describe Jeremy Clarkson could be perceived as an insult to what were an intelligent and subtle species.

Keith Shilson
London


The cartoon of A People's History of the World is only available in the printed edition of Socialist Review.