What Neanderthals and Other Ancient Hominins Teach Us About Being Human

What makes us human? It’s a question we keep coming back to, in part because it's got no definitive answer. In this week’s episode we explore the ultimate existential query by looking at two of our most recent human ancestors–Homo floresiensis and Neanderthals–with two experts, anthropologist Gregory Forth and archeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes.


Discovered by archeologists in 2003 on the Indonesian island Flores, Homo floresiensis were nicknamed “Hobbits” for their small stature and large feet. They hunted and may have used fire and made stone tools. Despite their small brains, some scientists believe they may have had mental abilities similar to ours. As for Neanderthals, the last thirty years of research have led to a portrait of a species that is very far from bumbling cavemen wielding heavy clubs. In fact, Neanderthals were sophisticated thinkers, creators, explorers, and innovators, much like Homo sapiens. Eve and Julie talk with Gregory and then Rebecca about what our ancient relatives teach us about ourselves–and whether it’s possible that one of these hominins is still alive today.


Gregory Forth received his doctorate at the University of Oxford and was a professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta for more than three decades. He's a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and is the author of more than a hundred scholarly papers and several academic books. Between Ape and Human: An Anthropologist on the Trail of a Hidden Hominoid is his first book for a general audience.


Rebecca Wragg Sykes is an archeologist, author, and honorary Fellow in the School of Archeology, Classics, and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. Her doctoral thesis, awarded in 2010, was the first synthesis of evidence for late Neanderthals in Britain. Her critically acclaimed and bestselling first book, Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, is a deep dive into the 21st century science and understanding of these ancient relatives. Kindred won the 2021 PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History, was awarded Book of the Year by Current Archeology, and was selected as one of 2021’s 100 Notable Books by The New York Times and a Book of the Year by the Sunday Times.




Between Ape and Human: An Anthropologist on the Trail of a Hidden Hominoid


"Mr. Forth is a highly reputable scholar, a scrupulous researcher, as well as an effective communicator....[In Between Ape and Human] Mr. Forth recounts much that is suggestive and intriguing, deep diving into Lio beliefs about the lai ho’a in myth, legend, religion, and rumor." Wall Street Journal


"Between Ape and Human is fascinating reading for someone who understands that, while archeology trades in materials science and in firm estimates of dates and purpose, anthropology is about conversations and culture...[Forth] presents a record of the puzzling information that he collected and then sets out the anthropologist’s own ideas about whether the modern-day Flores hobbits descend directly from the ancient ones. If you’re in the mood for an adventure, you might want to read the book." Forbes Magazine


Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art


** WINNER OF THE PEN HESSELL-TILTMAN PRIZE 2021 **


“Important reading not just for anyone interested in these ancient cousins of ours, but also for anyone interested in humanity.” —Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens - The New York Times


“Beautiful, evocative, authoritative. Kindred is a beautifully written exploration of our fast-developing understanding of Neanderthals and their culture and a compelling insight into how modern science is revealing the secrets of an extinct species who, for 350 thousand years before Homo Sapiens became dominant, inhabited a world ‘as wide and rich as the Roman Empire.’”—Professor Brian Cox, Physicist and TV presenter


Go Deeper


Gregory Forth

Rebecca Wragg Sykes

Between Ape and Human: An Anthropologist on the Trail of a Hidden Hominoid, by Gregory Forth

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, by Rebecca Wragg Sykes

Eve Yohalem

Julie Sternberg

Book Dreams Podcast

Podglomerate

Lit Hub Radio