Do you envision the grunting, hairy brutes of yester-year dragging their women by the hair past St. Peter and through the pearly gates? Me neither. I never gave cavemen much thought at all until I began a serious look into the book of Genesis.
Who were these ancient people and how do they fit into the historical account of the Bible?
If you’re new to this site, I look at topics from a young earth perspective, meaning I take the Biblical account of creation literally, making the earth 6,000-7,000 years old. For simplicity, I call this the creationist view, as opposed to the evolutionary view which assumes the earth is billions of years old. (For more on this, see my older posts.)
Let’s look at some terminology:
Cavemen: Loose term generally referring to ancient individuals who left evidence of their existence in caves, often viewed as primitive and perhaps sub-human, as an intermediary between ape and human species.
There are several groups of cavemen, primarily differentiated by skull/skeletal shape. The most well-known are the Neanderthals, named for the Neander Valley in Germany where their remains were discovered. Several hundred Neanderthal skeletons have been found. Their skulls have a prominent brow-ridge, wide nasal cavities and are more elongated than ours today.
Neanderthals: ape or sub-human or what?
Rarely are reconstructed Neanderthal individuals given eyes with brown sclera or a black ape-like nose anymore. They aren’t in the museum display in a knuckle dragging posture or picking lice from each other’s fur as a snack. Evolutionists and creationists, for the most part, agree that Neanderthals were 100% human, confirmed by DNA testing. Although the samples are limited, Neanderthal genes are 99.7% identical to modern samples. They do carry genes not seen today, so they were like us, but with variances.
Paleontologists tell us these people hunted big game, cooked it along with veggies, used a variety of tools, and may have worn jewelry. They lived in complex societies and built dwellings from local resources. They carefully buried their dead, frequently in protected areas like caves, and are found in graves alongside modern human remains.
How does this distinct group of humans fit into the Bible?
We need to review history according to the Bible to answer this question.
Creation: approx, 6,000 years ago. Adam and Eve were formed, presumably without genetic defects. They were able to communicate and think and make decisions. They were fully human, fully accountable to God.
The Flood of Noah: approx 2350 BC. The gene pool afterward was limited to those of Noah’s sons and their wives. They were descendants of Adam and Eve, also fully human.
The Dispersion: After the Tower of Babel incident (100-300 years post Flood) at least 70 people groups were formed, most migrated away from the Shinar valley.
By Abraham’s day, both creationist and evolutionist camps agree that the only people around were modern humans (Homo sapiens). In fact, both agree that Neanderthals lived during the Ice Age and disappeared by the time it ended.
This brings us to another topic, the Ice Age. I will discuss it at length in my next post. For now I will give you the summary –creationists place the Ice Age after the Flood, lasting a few hundred years, fading away by Abraham’s day. Neanderthal remains are found in sediment associated with the Ice Age.
So, where did they come from originally? Where did they go? Why doesn’t that funky head shape show up at my family reunions?
There are many, many theories regarding the physical characteristics of the Neanderthals, and even within the two camps, there is no consensus. Here’s a smattering of explanations:
1. Neanderthal and modern humans intermarried. The less prominent brow ridge became dominant.
2. Disease and nutritional issues related to climate caused skeletal changes, diminishing as the Ice Age ends. Suggested culprits are: rickets, iodine deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, arthritis, and syphilis.
3. The Neanderthals were one people group that dispersed from Babel, eventually all killed or dead from other causes.
One theory I found quite intriguing, proposed by orthodontist Jack Cuozzo. He suggests that Neanderthals are simply the descendants of Noah who lived to an old age. A really, really old age. We see in the Genesis tables of generations how life-spans began to decrease after the Flood. Noah lived 950 years; his son Shem, 600. Less than ten generations later, Abraham lives to a mere 175. Moses lived only 120 years, the upper limit we see today.
Cuozzo believes skulls change continuously throughout our lives, as do all bones in our bodies to some degree. He relates the shape of the Neanderthal skull to age related changes over hundreds of years of life. This explains the absence of the brow-ridge feature on Neanderthal children, and why Neanderthal and modern humans were buried together at times. They were most likely family.
Neanderthals seem to have disappeared at the end of the Ice Age, and modern man remains became more abundant. This makes sense if life spans were diminishing. No one lived long enough for the characteristic changes.
I was going to title this post ‘Noah was a Neanderthal’, but didn’t want to offend anyone right off the bat. Now I’ll say it, as food for thought. Adam and Eve, Methuselah, Shem. All may have had the features we delegate to ‘lesser’ humans. Hmmmm. Intriguing.
Neanderthals in heaven? I’m not certain who they were or where they went. I do know they were either apes or they were humans, not something in between. As humans, they had souls and the ability to choose or deny God. Just like Adam. Just like me. Maybe we will see Neanderthals dancing down the streets of gold (and maybe they really are our ancestors!)