Tag Archive: Neanderthal

Start of Year 9

It’s the beginning of spring, here in these northern mountains, but you’d never know it by the temperature of the air. Oh, the sun is riding higher in the sky and the days are now as long as the nights, but the snow is still dry beneath my skis, at least on the higher terrain.

I was right about the animals growing coats to fit the climate. Those that live here in the snow, like the foxes, grow coats so thick and warm they can lie on the snow and sun themselves. In fact all of the small to medium predators have wonderfully thick coats. Even those herbivores that the local hunters kill for food have far denser and warmer coats than those I am familiar with.

I am not going to let the northern hunters know of my existence if I can help it. I have, however, set up a peculiar form of trade for tanned furs. I have observed that they use salt as a preservative, and that it seems to be the thing in shortest supply when they are preserving hides. I realized this when I saw them saving and reusing the salt with which they treated skins, even at times evaporating salt solution in hides staked over a fire. So one day when a group ran off to help bring a butchered animal back to camp, leaving a tanned fur in plain sight, I stole it. Well, not quite stole it – in its place I left a pile of salt sufficient to preserve a number of much larger pelts.

They obviously observed the substitution, and I watched carefully for any sign that they considered themselves threatened. I think the men were somewhat upset. The women, however, seemed delighted with the salt. From that time on, whenever they have had to leave a campsite for a day or two (usually to haul in meat) tanned furs were left out in plain sight.

Rainbow is trying, but so far her efforts are not creating anything like what these northern hunters produce. But the rest of the People will be back soon, and some of them may have some suggestions for copying the furs I can show them. And Rainbow can surely construct me some warm clothes for next season.

Jarn’s Journal is the journal of a human-like alien stranded in Africa some 125,000 years ago. He has made friends with a group of early Homo Sapiens there, but he is determined not to repeat the mistake with the Neanderthals he has found in Europe. At the moment he is in the Alps, needing warmer clothes and finding that the Neanderthals are far better at preparing hides with the fur on than the People who have taken him in. The whole Journal (find it here) is part of the back story of the universe in which my science fiction is set.

Year 8 day 252

How do these northerners manage to preserve fur so it remains supple and wearable? And warm?

Several days ago I found the leopard skin the People had once adorned me with, which at the time I had found unbearably hot. That heat was what I craved for exploring the northern continent, especially now that the northern solstice is approaching, but the hide was far stiffer than the tanned skins the People use for clothing.

I asked Rainbow if there was any way of softening the furred hide.

“Why?” she asked. It has become one of her favorite words, and one I encourage. So I explained – or tried to – that the northern continent I was exploring was very cold, so cold that there was snow on the ground in places, and that I needed warmer clothing.

The idea was totally beyond her. The coldest she could imagine was a cool night, perhaps cool enough that several of the People would snuggle together to share warmth. Clothes, to her mind, are for adornment and occasionally for protection from the sun, not for warmth. Why would anyone want to leave the fur on hides, except for occasional festival adornment? In preparing hides for clothing was not the first step to remove all flesh and hair, so that only the skin remained?

Were the furs worn by the northern hunters as stiff as my leopard skin?

Today I found proof that they are not.

I have been spying on the hunters when I find them, but keeping out of sight. Today, however, I found where one of the hunters, probably too old to dodge his prey, had been killed instead of killing. A pack of wolves was feasting on his remains, but I used the warnoff to drive them away long enough that I could examine the body.

Physically, I found nothing to contradict my earlier impressions. But the furs he wore, however crudely tailored, were as soft as my loincloth.

He had no further use for them, I told myself, and took them to show Rainbow that hides could indeed retain the fur and still be flexible. But I made sure not to teleport back any of the living creatures that infested them. Fleas and lice I do not need!

Jarn’s Journal is part of the remote back story of the Jarnian Confederation, in which most of my science fiction is set. Jarn is a human-like alien who was stranded in Africa some 125,000 years ago and has contacted some of our remote ancestors. He is currently trying to explore Europe, and since he is starting his years on the northward equinox it’s getting cold there. The journal to date is on my author site.

Year 8, Day 230

I think I saw one of the northern hunters today.

It was quite a distance from where I met and killed the pig – I’ve been careful not to go back to the immediate vicinity of that spot. True, I have interfered with one sentient species, and I will continue to do so. I cannot stand to be alone again. But one species is enough. I will not bear the guilt of a similar interaction with this new species.

The People travel in search of game, following the rains. The group I saw seem to migrate also, but in response to temperature rather than moisture. There is now snow on the higher peaks, and the group or possibly family I saw appeared to be traveling toward the warmer coastline. They wore furs, which are so warm as to be punishing among the People, but I found myself coveting them in the mountains..

This species is even less R’il’nian-like than the People in many ways. Their skin and hair are lighter than that of the People, who are toward the darker end of the R’il’nian spectrum. Reasonable, as the People live in a very sunny climate. This area is a good deal cloudier, especially as we move toward the local winter, so heavy pigmentation would actually be somewhat of a handicap.

They are also built somewhat more heavily, with barrel chests and heavily muscled limbs. It’s hard to be sure of relative size at a safe distance, but I suspect they are not too different. Probably they mass more, though I imagine there is overlap between the two species in height.

The faces are quite different, with heavy brow ridges, large noses and little forehead, but with a great deal of brain case at the back of the skull. This suggests a difference in the brain organization, but without careful observation I cannot know what the difference is. Some of the differences appear to be cold adaptation, but not all. For the moment, I had better leave them alone.

Jarn’s Journal is the fictional journal of a human-like alien who was stranded in Africa about 125,000 years ago. The Journal to date can be found in its entirety on my author site


Year 8, Day 211

It’s taken me quite a few days to locate Little Gnu’s group and talk to him, but he has confirmed my suspicions. Neither of the weapon points was made by the People.

Maybe I’d better back up a little, since it’s been a while since I updated this journal.

When I teleport whole game to Rainbow, I let her do the cleaning and then teleport away what she says is waste. I tried leaving the innards behind, but it seems she has uses for some of them. At any rate, the pig (which was excellent eating, by the way) had a spear point and a short length of broken shaft in its lungs.

Pistachio tree (Photo source)

Pistachio tree (Photo source)

The point looked rather like the one I had found earlier, on the shore of the fish lake. They looked to me as if they were made in quite a different way from the method Little Gnu taught me, so I tracked him down and asked him. He agreed that there were others who looked like the People and made tools, but did not think that these chipped stone points had been made by any of them. In particular, he found the fastening of the bit of shaft to the point totally strange.

So what am I to make of this information?

Some creature similar to the People – and myself – put that spear in the animal’s lungs. Probably they planned to track the injured animal until it was slowed by loss of blood and shock, which by the way it was staggering when I first saw it would have immobilized it very shortly. If they had anything like the skill of the People in tracking, they would have tracked it to where I had teleported the carcass away, and possibly found my footprints. They must have been quite puzzled when both the pig and my footprints vanished.

I don’t think I should go back to that exact area, even if Rainbow has suggested that another pig (and more of the nuts) would be welcome.

Jarn’s Journal is part of the remote back story of my science fiction, set in the Jarnian Confederation. It is supposedly the journal of Jarn, a human-like alien stranded in Africa some 125,000 years ago. He has been exploring the north shores of the Mediterranean, specifically in the southwestern Balkans, although his home base is in the southern African Rift Valley.

Neanderthal and Densovan

DNA Molecule

A schematic of a DNA molecule. (Public Domain image from Wikimedia commons.)

Homo has been spreading out of Africa since long before the evolution of “true” or “modern” humans.  But what exactly is a “true” human? What is a species?

Once it was simple. God made the species, which were unchangeable. Then the naturalists got into it, and the head-scratching began. The recognition that species could actually go extinct made more problems yet. Which modern species were they most like? Were they even “new” species, or variants of modern ones? Remember that the first “natural histories” included some very odd beasts from travelers’ tales, some of which were probably at fourth and fifth hand.

Comparisons within the human family tree have always been particularly fraught. Quite aside from the fact that many still refuse to accept the evolution of human beings, every paleontologist wants to be remembered as the discoverer of a new species. But it seems likely that Homo habilus, Homo erectus (who left Africa and included the subspecies Neanderthal and Denisova) and Homo Sapiens were valid species in that it is unlikely that an early Homo Habilis could have interbred with a late Homo erectus – though DNA is providing some surprises.

Even a relatively few years ago, when Jean Auel’s first book was published, the idea that Homo Sapiens, the upright and noble cave artists, could have interbred with brutish Neanderthals was laughed at by many anthropologists. Physically impossible! Any such rare hybrids would have been sterile, like mules!

Then DNA sequencing from bone fragments became possible. DNA of two variants of Homo Erectus, Neanderthal and Denisovian, was successfully sequenced. Bits of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA were found in every human population except those of pure sub-Saharan African descent.

Love or war? We don’t know and most likely never will, but probably both. Obviously our DNA was still compatible. It is quite possible that the “extinction” of the Neanderthals by Homo Sapiens was more of a genetic swamping. We even know what some of the Neanderthal genes we retained were – part of our modern immune system. Makes good sense: the Africans would be wide open to cold-adapted parasites and diseases, while the Neanderthals had adapted to them over a couple of hundred thousand years.

We know far less about the Denisovans, though since I turned out to have a whopping 3% Denisovan, I’m going to be following their story with considerable interest.

I ran across an article recently claiming that modern humans have a better sense of smell than Neanderthals.

Well, some modern humans.

I happen to be practically devoid of a sense of smell. Maybe it’s years of allergies. Maybe it’s diabetic neuropathy. Maybe it’s living in a cold, dry climate. Neanderthals do appear to have been better cold-adapted than modern humans who, after all, evolved in Africa. But the fact remains that my eyes start burning from charring food on the stove before I smell it. And I can’t even smell the odors from some of my plants, including mint, unless I rub or crush the leaves. I have to put my nose right into fragrant roses, jasmine or citrus blossoms before I smell them.

It hasn’t always been that way. I can remember smelling the differences between herb plants at a nursery, for instance, and sniffing appreciatively at pineapple sage and lemon verbena. I’m sure lilacs once spread their scent, while I now have to bury my nose in a panicle to get anything.

It’s not all a loss, of course. I remember also the stench of my grandparents’ outhouse, especially in summer, and deep-cleaning a dirt-floored stall in spring. Considering what sanitation was like a couple of centuries ago, I suspect that modern humans must have learned to turn off or ignore their sense of smell pretty often, just as a matter of survival.

Strangely I am still sensitive to some odors, especially cigarette smoke and some artificial perfumes. But they make my eyes water as well as being distinctly unpleasant odors, and I suspect my reaction may be linked to the fact that “perfumed” detergents make my skin itch.

But now and then I notice a pleasant odor. Right now, it is narcissus.

They started blooming this week, next to the kitchen table. I saw them first, but the last couple of days my meals have had a distinct, intensely floral narcissus flavor. I remember how my mother used to force narcissus bulbs. I am still sensitive to the link between odor and memory, it seems.

In fact, writing about odors often brings things to mind I have almost forgotten. The smell of cut green grass, for instance, brings back the years one of my chores was cutting the Bermuda grass with our old push mower. Not too surprising in terms of brain wiring – the sense of smell is the only one that goes straight from the environment into the brain, but it’s interesting that simply remembering a smell from when I could detect it has the same effect.

I can’t help but wonder how much variability there might be, both in modern humans and in Neanderthals, in the capacity to detect and distinguish odors.