On Tue, 14 Oct 2008 19:54:33 +0200, Lars Finsen wrote:

> Den 13. okt. 2008 kl. 21.29 skreiv Jörg Rhiemeier:
> > I don't consider it very likely, but possible.  "Cultural" evolution
> > among hominids before _Homo sapiens_ was incredibly slow - a hand-axe
> > made 300,000 years ago doesn't look any different from one made
> > 400,000 years ago, for instance, while it is just 100,000 years from
> > hand-axes to modern technology.  *Something* must have happened when
> > _Homo sapiens_ arrived on the scene.  The early hominids (up to and
> > including Neanderthals) evidently were unable to *invent* anything,
> > and it is well known that not a shred of evidence of artistic
> > behaviour (which is of course an anthropological universal as for
> > our species) has been found.
> Exactly, that is my opinion, too. Of course, they could have been  
> great philosophers, concentrating only on inner matters. But I think  
> the inventiveness is very tightly bound to a modern, fully symbolic  
> language. You cannot have one without the other.

Indeed.  Inventing something, or creating something for the sake
of itself (remember: before _Homo sapiens_, there is *no art*,
just useful items such as handaxes and spears - often indeed
quite beautiful, but always functional rather than artistic in
purpose), appears to have been beyond what they could think of
- how then could they have been able to *talk* about such things?
Their languages may have had a closed vocabulary, with no facility
for neologisms.  They could have been oligosynthetic.  And if Jared
Diamond is right, their behaviour was to a large extent genetically
conditioned.  Perhaps also their languages, which would also have
entailed very, very slow diachronic change.

>        Still I have for a   
> long time thought that some form of symbolic communication must have  
> existed before modern man. Homo erectus existed for a long time, and  
> during this time, his brain just about doubled in size. Since his  
> material culture does not change appreciably, my best guess is that  
> this brain growth is due to some growth in linguistic ability,  
> preparing for the advent of modern man, so to speak.

Hard to say.  Surely, their behaviour gradually became more complex,
and probably also their means of communication.  Their languages
must have been intermediate between chimp calls and modern human
languages in their complexity, gradually evolving towards more
complex and powerful systems.

> > They were qualitatively less creative
> > than we are; it may indeed be the case that their behaviour was to
> > a much larger extent genetically conditioned than ours.  I also
> > consider it unlikely that such hidebound beings had languages as
> > complex as ours.  (Which would also rule out a Neanderthal origin
> > of Indo-European, because Proto-Indo-European, as far as we can tell,
> > was a full-fledged human languages with all complexities and
> > subtleties of modern languages, except, of course, words for things
> > not yet invented or discovered back then.)
> Well, the original question wasn't about the Neanderthal origin of IE  
> specifically, if I recall right, but about the curious coincidence of  
> the spatial distributions of Neanderthals and PIE. Of course, given  
> that there are a 20-odd millennia between the Neanderthals and PIE,  
> whatever they left behind would have plenty of time to fuse and  
> develop into something fully-fledged.

Most anthropologists are of the opinion that the Neanderthals
simply went extinct and did not contribute to the modern human
gene pool.  If they were, as evcidenced by their artifcats,
qualitatively less creative than our species, unable to invent
new things or to create and appreciate fine art and music and
all that, and possessing only a comparatively rudimentary
language, this alone should have constituted a species barrier.
No matter whether interbreeding was biologically possible or
not, hardly any Cro-Magnon human would even have considered
mating with a Neanderthal!  And their contribution to the
*cultural* heritage of European _Homo sapiens_ probably also
was nil - except as mythical monsters of the past.  The
Neanderthals may have been the original giants, trolls, fomors,
etc. of Europe.

> Anyhow I didn't know that the spatial distribution of PIE was so well  
> mapped at all. If it is, the explanation is probably that both were  
> able to find and exploit the best areas.

The jury is still out on where PIE was spoken, but most scholars
place it in or near Ukraine (while a minority opts for Anatolia).
And actually, the match between the distributions of _Homo
neanderthalensis_ on one hand and Indo-European languages on the
other is not really that good.

> > They definitely had "some communicative ability", probably much more
> > than chimps can manage, but nobody knows to which extent it equalled
> > the languages of our species.
> Chimps can manage quite a bit. They have names, they have calls for  
> almost any emotion you could name, and they have "songs" describing  
> the location and characteristics of foods.

I haven't heard of "chimp songs" yet, but indeed, at least under
laboratory conditions, chimps display remarkable semiotic skills.
The sign systems they use in the wild, however, appear to be
somewhat simpler than what human-trained chimps have been shown
to achieve.

> > As for not being fully sapient, the
> > case is indeed not closed yet, but "burials" or at least systematic
> > disposal of dead bodies are known from various sedentary non-human
> > animals including bees and some species of burrowing rodents, and the
> > decorative items found at Neanderthal sites date from a period when
> > Cro-Magnon humans already had arrived on the scene, not earlier.
> Interesting fact, and charming somehow. Probably, "we" weren't busy  
> wiping them out all the time. Evidently they liked our decorative  
> items. Either they copied us or got hold of our items in some way or  
> other.

Yes.  There may even have been some kind of "silent trade", i.e.
exchange of goods by placing them in a location where the other
party picks them up, or something like that.  There is not much
evidence that Neanderthals were slaughtered by Cro-Magnon people;
it is more that they were wedged between the expanding ice sheet
in the north and the _Homo sapiens_ in the south, and found ever
fewer places where they could live undisturbed, and gradually
died out.

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