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

Ever since we discovered their existence in 1856, Neanderthals have captured our imaginations. While we find it easy to accept that the world is home to different kind of bears, foxes and dolphins, we are startled by the idea other species of humans.

Just be being, Neanderthals challenge some of our most cherished ideals and delusions, Neanderthals force us to question the belief that Homo Sapiens is the apex of creation and, more generally, what it means to be human.

These questions are now more urgent than ever. In 1856, it seemed that Neanderthals belonged safely to the past, and that Homo sapiens would forever dominate the great chain of being.

In 2020, we are far less certain, New technologies might soon make it possible to resurrect the Neanderthals. Even more important, new technologies might make it possible to reengineer Homo sapiens, or to create completely new kinds of humans.

New technologies have also revolutionized the study of Neanderthals and other ancient humans. Over the past few decades, novel techniques to analyze stone, bone and DNA have made it possible to reconstruct what occurred around a Neanderthal campfire 100,000 years ago.

A handful of tiny fragments are sometimes enough to determine what some Neanderthals ate for breakfast, what ailments afflicted her, what was the color of her skin and whether her parents were first cousins.

Every year, enormous amounts of new data about Neanderthals gush forth in scientific journals. The media has picked up the most sensational scoops, most notably that Neanderthals interbred with Sapiens, and that about 2 percent to 3 percent of our genes today come from Neanderthal ancestors.

Yet for most people, Neanderthals remain the brutish cave people familiar with countless cartoons. We think in stories rather than in data-bits, and the only thing that can replace an old story is a new one.

In her book ''Kindred,'' Rebecca Wragg Sykes aims to tell a complete new story about Neanderthals. She has done a remarkable job synthesizing thousands of academic studies into a single accessible narrative.

From her pages emerge new Neanderthals that are very different from the cartoon figures of old.  ''Kindred'' is important reading not just for anyone interested in these ancient cousins of ours, but also for anyone interested in humanity.

Skyes's  most important contribution is to understand Neanderthals on their own terms.

We need to discuss all other human species in relation to our own. We see them as  steppingstones on the path to Sapiens, and we want to know in which ways we were superior to them, whether we had sex with them and whether we killed them off.

But in Skyes's story, Sapiens appear only as minor characters at the end ''Kindred'' is about Neanderthals.

Skyes's explains that Neanderthals were sophisticated and competent human beings who adapted to diverse habitats and climates. They ranged from the shores of the Atlantic to the steppes of Central Asia.

They thrived in hot climates as well as. ice age tundra. In addition to participating in iconic large game hunts, Neanderthals fished in rivers, gathered a multitude of plant species and sometimes stole honey from beehives.

They manufactured complex tools, made clothing from animal hides, constructed cozy shelters, occasionally burred their dead and maybe, just maybe, even created art.

The World Students Society thanks review author, Yuval Noah Harari.


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