Paleoanthropology defines the "slow news cycle". What else can explain The Independent (UK) picking up this six-month-old story about Gary Sawyer's and Blaine Maley's Neandertal "reconstruction" (via Anne Gilbert at Palanthsci)? Perhaps it's the compelling power of the AMNH press release?
I'm drawing attention to it because it contains the first public expression I can remember of the "sensitive Neandertal" theory:
Whereas Homo sapiens was able to pursue prey over very long distances, Neanderthals appear to have been markedly less able to do so and would probably therefore have had to have been more confrontational with their potential dinners.
As a consequence, Neanderthal males were probably away from their families for shorter periods than Homo sapiens - and it is likely that family structures and relationships between males and females may well have been markedly different.
"Markedly different" meaning more cohesive, stable and caring, evidently. The headline?
Official: Neanderthal Man was not a hairy oaf but a sensitive kinda guy
Carson would be so proud.
How does a paleoanthropologist react to this news?
"The reconstruction strengthens the case for regarding Neanderthals as representing a different species with their own survival strategies compared to those of Homo sapiens," said Professor Chris Stringer, head of the Human Origins Research Programme at London's Natural History Museum.
"The work shows how different strategies resulted from and reinforced different evolutionary paths," said Professor Stringer, author of a recent book on hominid prehistory, The Complete World of Human Evolution.
Hmmm. Either, (a) we are now ready to confirm that a caring man cannot be a member of the human species, or (b) no matter what feature somebody discovers, there will be somebody else to claim it puts Neandertals on a separate evolutionary path.
Maybe it's my Neandertal genes that make me act out when I see this kind of thing.
UPDATE (9/12/05): I have an e-mail from Chris Stringer letting me know that people are getting in touch with him about the post. Please leave the poor man alone -- he was clearly commenting generally on the reconstruction and not the headline! The humor in the story is the juxtaposition!