3Neanderthals Were Big, Simple Animals
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Quick, picture a Neanderthal. Chances are you're able to conjure a pretty vivid image of a big, stupid, hairy man-ape. These unintelligent brutes were little more than an evolutionary dead end: Their main mission in history was to look silly and haul giant clubs around for a while until a brutal ape faction named Homo sapiens got tired of their bullshit and bashed their big, dumb faces in.
What we're saying is that Neanderthals were essentially apes that had figured out how to use clubs.
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Basically a group of smarter Jose Cansecos.
We're going to show you two different sets of tools, one courtesy of the Neanderthals and one by our very own H. sapiens ancestors. Can you guess which is which?
Well, shit. They were able to make almost the same damn tools as us, weren't they? Delving deeper into Neanderthal culture only adds to the "holy crap, they had a brain" evidence pile. Their diets were very similar to that of H. sapiens of the time, they expressed artistic tendencies by dabbling in cave painting (way before we did, too!), and they even got the same cancer tumors as us. They took gentle care of disabled members of their society, something humanity is still struggling with in many parts of the world. But hey, didn't Neanderthals only talk in grunts and other low noises? Surely that's what sets them and us apart.
Or, not. Recent scientific research has discovered that Neanderthals also had the gene that allows humans to speak and develop complex languages. They, alone among all animals, had the exact same capacity for self-expression as humans. Add that to the fact that they were more than capable of creating art, and think of what we missed. If only we'd kept our "let's kill everyone" instinct on a leash for once, we could now be enjoying the works of Neanderthal Shakespeare.
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"Alas, poor Ugluk ..."
2The First Native Americans Migrated from Siberia
Some 13,000 years ago, a bunch of Siberia denizens (whom archeologists would later dub the Clovis culture) suddenly noticed that they were living in freaking Siberia. They gathered together and, in search of a better life, embarked on a grueling mass migration across the future Bering Strait, which at that point was a land bridge to the uninhabited continents beyond. Having successfully completed their dangerous journey, they spread out all over the land. Over time, they set up tribes and nations, becoming true natives of the continent and generally living happily ever after.
"It's a good thing that giant arrow was pointing at where to go."
That is, until some weirdly dressed European dudes sailed along millennia later and dubbed the place "America." Things went downhill for them shortly after that.
A single group of people braving a dangerous journey to a pristine, untouched paradise land is a fine image and a touching story. Unfortunately, that's all it is. In reality, migrations are rarely performed by a single group of people traveling in a neat, possibly arrow-shaped formation. They trickle in from all directions and cultural backgrounds over a long period of time.
Many were lost along the way.
Damning archeological evidence against the "Clovis First" theory is piling up on a weekly basis. Take Monte Verde, a 15,000-year-old Stone Age site in southern Chile that shows that the area was populated almost a thousand years before the ice covering the Bering land bridge had receded enough for human beings to cross the area. Or the Paisley Caves, where scientists have found tools that date back hundreds of years before the Clovis folks and feature a completely different design.
In fact, the whole assumption that the settlement of America was done by a single cultural group from Siberia is more or less based on the distinctive pointed Clovis tools found in a New Mexico town called Clovis (archaeologists are not particularly inventive when it comes to naming things). The strange thing is that researchers have found no link between the tools of ancient Siberians and the Clovis people. In fact, the oldest Clovis tools have been found on the East Coast of the USA, not the west, as would be expected from people who came in from Siberia.
Jim Wileman smithsonianscience.org
"Well, the East Coast is usually ahead of the curve on most important things." -The world's douchiest anthropologist
However, the tools share surprising similarities to those made by a group called Solutreans, a European tribe who used to live in Spain and southern France. According to Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institute, Solutreans might have been able to reach the Americas by paddling along the coasts of Atlantic ice sheets 22,000 years ago, and thus got a massive head start in the settlement of the continents. We're actually kind of enjoying this theory, if only because it would bring a deliciously M. Night Shyamalanian twist to the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire: They were raiding their own people all along.