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Creation 42(1):12–13, January 2020

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The sophisticated Neandertal

Is The Flintstones a more accurate picture of Neandertals than evolutionary documentaries?

by and Robert Carter


Many people watched The Flintstones growing up. This popular cartoon show from the 1960s featured two families of ‘cave people’ enjoying all the conveniences of modern life, albeit in dinosaur- and mammoth-powered versions. There’s no evidence that Neandertals actually vacuumed the floor using a mammoth’s trunk (trunks don’t tend to fossilize). But new evidence suggests that they enjoyed sophisticated home comforts that are a surprise only because we’ve been told for years that they were brutish ape-people only one step up from gorillas.

In fact, modern geneticists have confirmed that Neandertals were human.1

And they contributed a significant amount of DNA to the modern gene pool, to the point where they are the ancestors of billions of people alive today.

Let’s take a look at these ‘mysterious’ people. When you consider the evidence for their humanness, they stop being so mysterious.

The homey cave dwelling

Neandertals may have lived in caves, as some people still do today. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that these abodes were primitive. They divided the cave into rooms, built wind breaks to keep the draft out, and strategically placed hearths for cooking and warmth. The stone dividers that survive could have supported barriers made of skin or other materials that simply didn’t survive to the present day.2

What’s for dinner?

It turns out that Neandertals may have been quite the culinary artists! Unlike the secular documentaries which show Neandertals as barbarians eating raw meat or burning it over a fire, they had a variety of cooking methods. For example, just like we do today, they seasoned their meat with herbs to enhance the taste.

There is even evidence they boiled bones to extract nutrients. Many modern recipes call for ‘bone broth’, which adds a nutritious and tasty angle to a lot of our traditional foods. They also ate quite a large range of plant-based foods like pine nuts, moss, legumes, and palm dates, as well as a selection of non-poisonous mushrooms.3 And they ate the seeds of grasses which are comparable to early versions of barley, wheat, and rye.

Call the doctor!

When Neandertals got a headache or an infection, they could pull out their ‘first-aid kit’. It seems they used bark or buds from the poplar tree as a pain reliever. This contains salicylic acid, which was first isolated from willow tree bark, and is a precursor of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Poplars, aspens, and willows are in the same family, the Salicaceae, but not all species contain salicylic acid. Neandertals would have needed a basic knowledge of botany to know which parts of which tree species contained the desired ingredient. They also consumed the antibiotic-producing mould Penicillium.

Neandertal remains also show evidence of medical procedures applied to crushed limbs, fractured skulls, and tooth abscesses. Many of these individuals survived these conditions, indicating that Neandertals gave their injured and sick effective medical care.4 One researcher stated,

“The high level of injury and recovery from serious conditions, such as a broken leg, suggests that others must have collaborated in their care and helped not only to ease pain, but to fight for their survival in such a way that they could regain health and actively participate in the group again.”5

Neandertals were seemingly able to dress wounds, manage fevers, and call on a surprising number of plants for their ‘cave man’ pharmacy.

Also, like humans today, Neandertals often required assistance to give birth. This was due to the size of the baby’s head relative to the size of the mother’s pelvis. Neandertal researchers concluded they must have had midwives.5

When Neandertals died, they were often buried intentionally, involving ritual elements.6

The latest fashions

There’s a lot we don’t know about Neandertal clothing, because materials don’t generally survive the ravages of time. But we know that Neandertals living in the coldest climates must have covered 80% of their body to survive the weather. They likely would have made fur boots and mittens, though it is unclear whether they actually engaged in sewing—they may have tied skins around their bodies rather than tailoring garments. But this is hardly a ‘primitive’ behaviour. Some modern people living in cold climates still do this today, and it allows them to stay both warm and dry.7

And not all that Neandertals wore was solely utilitarian. Neandertals had an eye for beauty as shown by their jewellery. Bone, stone, and shell pendants have been found in which a hole was drilled. A leather strap could have been threaded through these, allowing them to be worn as a necklace.8

And they even had makeup! Archaeologists have found containers of crushed minerals which they surmise were used as ‘war paint’ or cosmetics. They even mixed minerals in complex combinations.9 Today, all-mineral makeup is sold as ‘natural’ and beneficial to the skin, but Neandertals had such things thousands of years ago!

The Neandertals were ancient, but not primitive

Given the harsh circumstances in which many Neandertals lived (e.g. in Europe during the Ice Age that was caused by the biblical Flood10), it is impressive to consider the progress they made as they fought against the elements. The picture is not one of primitive ‘apemen’, but of distinctly human people who were smart, inventive, creative, and loving. They, like you, were made in the image of God, and descendants of Adam through Noah.

References and notes

  1. Carter, R., Neandertal genome like ours (There may be Neandertals at your next family reunion!), 1 Jun 2010; creation.com/neandertal-genome-like-ours. Return to text.
  2. Spinney, L., Cosy up with the Neanderthals, the first humans to make a house a home, New Scientist; newscientist.com, 6 Feb 2019. Return to text.
  3. Harmon, K., Fossilized food stuck in Neandertal teeth indicates plant-rich diet, 27 Dec 2010; blogs.scientificamerican.com Return to text.
  4. Robson, D., Neanderthals suffered a lot of traumatic injuries. So how did they live so long? The Atlantic; theatlantic.com, 15 Oct 2018. Return to text.
  5. University of York, Neanderthal healthcare practices crucial to survival; eurekalert.com, 4 Oct 2018. Return to text.
  6. Gray, R., Cave fires and rhino skull used in Neanderthal burial rituals, New Scientist; newscientist.com, 28 Sep 2016. Return to text.
  7. Benton, A., What was Neanderthal clothing like? Filthy Monkey Men; filthymonkeymen.com, 13 Nov 2012. Return to text.
  8. Wade, L., Neandertals made their own jewelry, new method confirms; sciencemag.org, 16 Sep 2016. Return to text.
  9. Carter, R.W., The painted Neandertal: ancient cosmetics are upsetting evolutionary stories, 20 May 2010; creation.com/neander-painted. Return to text.
  10. Ice Age and Mammoths Questions and Answers; creation.com/ice-age. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Contested Bones
by Christopher Rupe, Dr. John Sanford
US $29.00
Soft Cover
Evolution's Achilles' Heels
by Nine Ph.D. scientists
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Helen C.
I wonder if there were several Neanderthal branches? I am thinking of the excavated villages on some of the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, also the Australian aboriginals at the other side of the equator who have never advanced technologically. How did all these splinter groups originate? Were there several small clusters cut off by the ice age and left to develop their own culture?
Robert Carter
Yes, there were several Neanderthal (and Denisovan) branches. We can see genetic differences, for example, between Neanderthals from Spain, and Russia. In fact, a female skeleton found in Denisova cave in eastern Russia was 50% Neanderthal and 50% Denisovan. But, the Neanderthal half was not closely related to a Neanderthal individual buried only a few feet away. Instead, she was related to the Neanderthals of Croatia. Australian aborigines and all other currently-living people are much more closely related than any living person is to a Neanderthal. The answer is that there were waves of migration that were carried across the world. Neanderthals and Denisovans were the first to get into Eurasia. They were replaced by later people (with interbreeding), who were often replaced by even later people (with more interbreeding).
Lorrie L.
Yes, Mike J. I was reminded of Auel as well. Her first book in the series, The Clan of the Cave Bear, became a favourite of mine. I read it several times, many years ago, because it fuelled my then evolutionary-influenced imagination but after becoming a Christian I wondered if I should get rid of it. Thankfully, this article (and your comment) provides confirmation to the contrary so with this renewed perspective, I may even read it again. In fact, I may even enjoy it more!
Mike J.
This isn’t news. Jean M Auel wrote the “Earth’s Children” series starting in 1980 that spoke to many of these discoveries and shed light on anthropologic discoveries literally decades ago.
Patricia B.
The DNA is different (in some regards) to Homo Sapiens, can you please explain how human beings who all derived from Adam can end up with differing genes. Thanks very much
Robert Carter
I can think of several ways. First, if Neanderthals split off from other people right after the Flood, any mutations that occurred in one population would not occur in the other. The longer they remained separate, the more different they would become. Second, some loss of genetic diversity is expected in the small post-Flood population. Additional losses would be expected in the post-Babel clans and the smaller clans would lose more than the larger clans. Thus, Neanderthals could have lost different genes than the other populations(s). Third, 'clocklike' mutation rates are a basic assumption behind many evolutionary claims, but what if this is wrong? One population could experience higher mutation rates than others. Finally, we must consider the effects of 'patriarchal drive'. Very old people having children in the rapidly-growing post-Flood population would naturally create new lineages that have a lot more mutations than others.

All that said, however, Neanderthals and modern humans are more similar than brown bears and polar bears. Yes, there are differences between modern humans and Neanderthals, but they are in some ways trivial.

See these articles from the Journal of Creation:
Carter and Powell (2016) The genetic effects of the population bottleneck associated with the Genesis Flood

Carter (2018) Effective population sizes and loss of diversity during the Flood bottleneck

Carter (2019) Patriarchal drive in the early post-Flood population

John P.
I was amused to see your reference to the Flintstones. I am now retired from travelling and speaking on creation topics, after many years of doing so, but I loved using that interesting point of the Flintstones being more accurate than the evolutionary fictional characters - even wore a Flintstone tie when speaking on the subject! (My family's sense of humour!) I have kept a file of these findings over the years and have constantly been amazed at the reluctance of evolutionists to recognise the true human character of these people.
Joanna M.
I can't tell you how thankful I am that this article dropped into my inbox today. One of my daughters homeschooling subjects is the Stone Age and I've been ignoring the majority of the work because I can't bring myself to teach her the lies! Now I can teach her in detail about the real cavemen! Thank you so much for this, I feel empowered.
Mark M.
If many Neandertals lived in Europe during the Ice Age that was caused by the biblical Flood then they would be descendants of Noah and should have more advance tools and skills than those Noah used to build the ark?
Lita Cosner
That's not necessarily true. If a catastrophe happened that wiped out a lot of the infrastructure that exists today, then another catastrophe that fragmented people into smaller groups than used to exist, you wouldn't expect the population that survived to have cell phones and computers just because we do today. Pre-existing technology and sophisticated human intelligence explains why we see societies like Egypt and Sumer relatively quickly after Babel, while the fragmentation of the human population explains why some were plunged into 'stone-age' conditions.
John P.
Thanks for the interesting article. Ancient man was far more intelligent than the current intellectual (so called) snobs give him credit for.
Stephanie V.
A couple of months ago i read an interesting article about Neanderthals in my Dutch newspaper were they spoke about Neanderthals being able to makes ropes of twisted grass fiber, which they used for nets, rugs, bags and maybe even clothing. According to a may 2020 scientific research, led by Bruce Hardy (Kenyon College, Ohio) in Scientific Report, this is new evidence that neanderthals are no less than modern humans in dexterity (skills) and intellect, because, he writes: "making such a string from bast fibers not only requires thorough knowledge of the tree and the best time to 'harvest' the fibers (late spring, early summer). The fibers must also be separated and prepared in water. Then it must be twisted into cords that can be processed into ropes again." And direct quotation from the abstract of the scientific paper: "Added to recent evidence of birch bark tar, art, and shell beads, the idea that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans is becoming increasingly untenable." The paper is free to read online and the title is: "Direct evidence of Neanderthal fibre technology and its cognitive and behavioral implications" Isn't that nice in line with this article?
Robert Carter
Thank you for pointing this out. I saw that article when it came out (after the initial publication date for the article here) and was instantly struck by the implications. With twisted fiber, the sheer number of functional objects they could have made is enormous, from fishing nets to hammocks. There is also the question of how they reached distant islands. Obviously they used boats, but did they have sails?
Doug K.
One minor correction—willows are classified in the genus “salix” rather than “populus.”
Robert Carter
Correction noted. Thank you for your sharp eye. This actually improves the article, for the name family, Salicaceae, goes better with the fact that many species in the group produce salicylic acid.
Jeanne O.
It is no stretch to believe they were desendants of Noah and had at their disposal all this knowledge of the past. In those early years they probably only had caves to house them. Imagine a world devoid of amenities, homes, people. All they had was handed down knowledge and they made the best of it.
Bud B.
I hope you won’t mind a bit of humour. The lead in song from the Hanna Barbara cartoon The Flintstones describes them as a “modern Stone Age family”. I am not sure what we Creationists call the “Stone Age” but I feel these fictional characters are portraying Homo Sapiens, descendants of Noah who built a huge ocean freighter. I find it quite believable that they had all these modern conveniences and as several CMI articles have pointed out, probably coexisted with dinosaurs (although they probably didn’t domesticate them).
Thanks for all of your great information and for even using the Flintstones to make a great point

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