Monday, February 14, 2005

BBC Horizon supports Gibraltar Museum theories

Neanderthal extinction
The prestigious BBC Television science documentary series Horizon, celebrating its 40th anniversary, screened a 50-minute documentary entitled ‘Neanderthal’ on Thursday night.

The programme aimed at giving an up-to-date perspective, using the latest available technology, on these extinct humans. The programme started with sequences filmed in Gibraltar showing the discovery of the Neanderthal skull in 1848, also with scenes inside the Garrison Library. The Re-enactment Society were also involved in the staging of the nineteenth century scene.

The programme explored current theories challenging the orthodox and long-established views of Neanderthals. These views have been most emphatically challenged in recent years by Professor Clive Finlayson and his team at the Gibraltar Museum. The programme drew heavily on Professor Finlayson’s book ‘Neanderthals and Modern Humans’ published by Cambridge University Press last year.

Horizon assembled a team of anatomical experts from the United States and Britain to test the ideas. A Neanderthal skeleton was reconstructed from component parts from fossils (no complete Neanderthal skeleton has even been found).

Professor Finlayson’s views are that Neanderthals were intelligent humans well-adapted to living in Europe and that their extinction was not due to the arrival of cognitively superior humans but rather to the quirks of climate change.

One by one the experts produced supporting evidence:

“The Neanderthals had larger brains than ours, the cognitive areas of their brains were as developed as ours, they could speak, they were tough and adapted to close-quarter hunting, but their anatomy made them less mobile than the moderns.”

The programme also showed compelling evidence from the anatomy of the inner ear that showed that the Neanderthal ear reflected a less mobile life than that of the Modern Humans, and it was this lack of mobility that caused their population decline at a time when open steppe environments (due to climate change) replaced the woodlands of the Neanderthals. In the open, the Moderns with their greater mobility and throwing weapons fared best in capturing game.

The programme ended with an interview with Professor Finlayson outside Gorham’s Cave where he explained the reason for the Neanderthal extinction, an argument that had been fully supported by the evidence presented independently in the course of the programme.

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