Are you calling Neanderthal Man an idiot?

When new human fossils come to light, it's understandable, and indeed laudible, that scientists can end up disagreeing over what it is that has actually been found. Homo floresiensis is a fascinating recent example, with some scientists claiming that it is a new human species, whereas others claim it is Homo sapiens with a bad case of microcephaly. The jury is still out—although, to this unqualified outsider at least, the argument for its being a new species seems to be winning at the moment.

I was reminded of the Homo floresiensis controversy when I came across the following quote in an 1864 paper by Thomas Henry Huxley entitled Further Remarks upon the Human Remains from the Neanderthal:

M. Pruner-Bey seems to incline to the hypothesis that the Neanderthal man was an idiot: but I confess I find much weight in the pithy reply of M. Broca:-

"Idiocy, competent to produce a cranium of this kind, is necessarily microcephalic; now this skull is not microcephalous, therefore it is not that of an idiot."

Plus ça change. It would appear that microcephaly is not a new explanation for human fossils with small brains.

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Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…

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