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


This is an amazingly detailed look at the life of Neanderthals. It covers their habits, habitats, and human-like behaviour. We get a full history of the science of Neanderthal studies, and an overview of the cutting edge laser-powered science that is happening today.

It is slyly and subtly funny - with little pop culture call outs. That helps to break up the sometimes repetitive lists of times and places.

There's a surprising chapter on colonialism and racism. The way we view the recent past has a powerful impact on the way we interpret the deep past. The book is full of interesting conjectures and conundrums.

But one thing is conspicuous by its absence - pictures! The book is begging for rich illustrations. For example, we're told that a mammoth tusk was found into which a Neanderthal artist had carved the likeness of a mammoth. Conclusive proof that they co-existed. But there's no photo to illustrate it.

Similarly, the discussion on dental wear, bone scrapings, and skeletal analysis would be greatly enhanced with even a couple of pictures. We get given the names of locations, but no geographic maps.

The few images which are in the book are low-resolution and hard to make out.

It is a long and thoughtful book. Naturally, it tends to "this might demonstrate..." and "which could be evidence of..." but that's the nature of looking into the past. Overall, it is a tantalising glimpse into a long-lost world.


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