It’s very common to lump the backward and the brutish into the category of “Neanderthal.” Well, Neanderthal experts don’t appreciate your casual trashing, thanks.
Atlas Obscura did some calling around. One of the scientists consulted was Evelyn Jagoda, a PhD student in Harvard’s Human Evolutionary Biology Department. She noted that when you see Neanderthals in the news, “Half the time it’s science news articles about cool new Neanderthal studies.” But: “The other half, it’s things like ‘These politicians are Neanderthals on this issue!’ or ‘This man is acting like a Neanderthal in his opinion on this!’”
“I know it is incorrect, but I am not surprised,” archeologist Dr. Paola Villa told Atlas Obscura in an email presumably written while sighing a long, tired sigh. And yet: “The American vocabulary is rich and varied,” she said, adding that, “If you want to offend somebody... there is no need to fall back on Neanderthals.” Jagoda finds it downright irritating, explaining, “To use the word to mean ‘brutish and stupid’ is really kind of baseless.” To wit:
As we learn more about Neanderthals, the opposite picture emerges—recent studies indicate they likely used materials from their environment to start fires faster, hunted large animals, and cave-painted with the best of them, all signs of cognitive complexity. Besides, we mated with them for tens of thousands of years. Neanderthal contributions to the human genome have been “really useful,” especially immunologically, says Jagoda, who studies this particular genetic legacy.
So please, don’t insult Neanderthals by comparing them to—just as a for-instance—Donald Trump.
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