Thumbs up for Neandertals
4 April 2003
Old myths about ‘ape-men’ die slowly. Even Neandertals, who for decades have been recognized by even many evolutionists to be fully human, still struggle to shed their image as hairy less-than-human brutes.
In ‘Digital analysis: manual dexterity in Neanderthals,’ Nature magazine (27 March 2003) exposes yet another false assumption about these mysterious people.
In the past, some anthropologists have proposed that Neandertals died out because their clumsy hands were unable to manufacture advanced tools. A new three-dimensional computer simulation of their thumb and forefinger, however, indicates that Neandertals had the same ‘precision grip’ as modern humans.
To make their model, researchers scanned images of a thumb and index finger of fossils found in La Ferrassie, France, and then converted the images into a full-motion model (much like animators now do with computer graphics). Although Neandertal hands look different from ‘modern’ hands (they had more muscle tissue and broader fingertips), their thumb was easily able to touch the tip of their index finger—the key to human dexterity.
Amazingly, the researchers chose very conservative estimates for the range of motion, so it is possible that the Neandertals’ hand was even more dexterous than our typical hand.1
This possibility is almost as amazing as the fact that Neandertal brains, on average, appear to have been larger than brain sizes today. So much for being ape-like brutes.
It’s all about assumptions
Without the ability to examine a ‘Neandertal’ in person, researchers are forced to make major assumptions to fill in the gaps of our knowledge. Because evolution has had such a strong influence on the study of human fossils, anthropologists have a reputation for jumping to crude conclusions (see Making Monkeys Out of Man). That’s one reason that anthropologists have grown a little more cautious in their claims about Neandertals.
Neandertal authority Erik Trinkaus writes about the history of bias in this field:
‘Infuriatingly, the fossils do not speak for themselves. It is the examining scientists who bring them to life, often endowing them with their own best or worst characteristics. Each generation projects onto Neandertals its own fears, culture, and sometimes even personal history. They are a mute repository for our own nature, though we flatter ourselves that we are uncovering theirs rather than displaying ours.
‘This is especially evident in one of the more fascinating aspects of the twisting tale of Neandertals and their interpretation: the creation of full-flesh reconstructions. … ’2
Evolutionists aren’t sure what to do with Neandertal man—whether he is a precursor of modern man or an offshoot that died out. But fossils of ‘Neandertals’ don’t present a problem for creationists, who recognize that God created a unique ‘kind’ of creature in his own image—man. In spite of all the variation that we find within the human race, they are all descendants of Adam and bear his resemblance. God also created other kinds of creatures, such as apes, which display significant variation within their kind. But there is an impassable gulf between the human kind and any other kind.
- ‘Given the open configuration of the Neanderthal trapezial-metacarpal-1 joint, all Neanderthal thumbs were probably more mobile than that of modern humans,’ claims the report in Nature. Return to text.
- Trinkaus, E. and Shipman, P. The Neandertals, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 399, 1992. Return to text.