Neanderthals: A History of Interpretation

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Abstract

This paper investigates the history of Neanderthal construction in different domains of social life and media. It establishes three broad tendencies within Neanderthal reconstructions: following the expulsion of Neanderthals from ‘humanity’ in the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century, the 1950s are characterized by a shift in this perception. From then, Neanderthals appear as essentially human creatures trapped in archaic bodies. Following this initial ideological oscillation the recent decades represent a parallel existence of both paradigms as well as a widening of conceptualizations. This paper argues that these ideological constructs remain operative, continuing to inform and form our perceptions of what Neanderthals are/are not.

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