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Archive for Thursday, December 9, 1999

EXHIBIT EXPLORES LIVES OF PREHISTORIC HUMANS

December 9, 1999

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The Museum of Anthropology is getting ready to open a display of artifacts, tools and casts relating to neanderthals.

Neanderthals have gotten a bad rap, according to two Kansas University anthropology professors.

The prehistoric humans are often portrayed as walking stooped over, living in caves and having little intelligence.

Not so, say David Frayer and Anta Montet-White, who, along with their students, have prepared the "Neanderthals in Kansas!" exhibit at KU's Museum of Anthropology.

"We wanted to present the neanderthals as a prehistoric people with no bias for or against them," Frayer said. "We wanted to show where and how they lived, their tools, diseases they had, how they buried their dead."

Neanderthals lived in Europe and the Near East -- yes, the exhibit's title is a teaser -- from about 130,000 to 30,000 years ago. The exhibit includes a collection of casts, photographs and artifacts.

Compared to modern man, neanderthals had stockier bodies, thicker bones and limbs short in the forearms and shins. Their bodies were better able to conserve body heat because the area of skin exposed to the cold was reduced.

Their faces were not as flat as modern man's; they were projected forward with larger noses and prominent chins.

Frayer said an examination of the skulls and bones show neanderthals lived a rigorous life. Some of the skull fragments in the exhibit have indentations indicating those people had been wounded. One arm bone has been amputated at the forearm, and erosion lines on some of the teeth indicate malnutrition.

Other bones prove neanderthals suffered from arthritis.

Frayer said the common image of a neanderthal is based on a person who had severe arthritis and walked stooped over most likely because of the severity of his disease.

Although their techniques developed slowly, Montet-White said, neanderthals had the intelligence to fashion tools with determined shapes from large chunks of rocks.

Triangular shapes were used for spear points. If the points dulled, they were then used as scrapers to prepare hides for clothing, tents and covers. Other tools were fashioned for chopping and piercing.

"The neanderthals were the first to bury their dead," Frayer said, adding that the remains of newborns, children and adults have been found in graves.

Males were typically buried in caves or at the front of caves. Red ochre and pollen from plants have been found in some graves. As yet, few female skeletal fragments have been discovered.

Frayer said current artifacts and documentation can not confirm that neanderthals had language skills. However, casts of the inside of their brain cases show their brains were larger than modern man's and that the left side of their brains were larger than their right sides, which indicates the possibility of language development.

Frayer said he hopes museum visitors go away from the exhibit with a better understanding of neanderthals.

"I hope they know more about neanderthals and not think of them as a loathsome type of human being but (as people) with skills like ours."

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is jbiles@ljworld.com.



PREHISTORIC HUMANS

What: "Neanderthals in Kansas!" exhibit.

When: Through Feb. 6.

Where: Kansas University's Museum of Anthropology.

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