Apparently, we need to change our ideas about what constitutes refinement. I say this because of a great recent news item. First, though, when I write the word ‘Neanderthal’ what springs to mind? My guess is that it’ll be creatures of indeterminate gender with no foreheads who sit in caves grunting and tearing raw meat from bones with their prognathous jaws. Perhaps now and then, one will stand, rise to his (this one’s a male) full height of 4 feet 10, club a neighbouring creature (this one will be a female) and drag her off to procreate. My apologies to any of you whose vision is of noble savages sitting around a fire listening to their equivalent of Brahms.
Bizarrely, though, the Brahms faction may be nearer the truth than the rest of us because it seems that Neanderthals wore make-up. Not only that, they also made bracelets and necklaces. For me this is a welcome discovery because something about illustrations of Neanderthals going about their business has always puzzled me. We see them sitting among their scraps of meat and discarded bones looking, frankly, not unlike straightforward apes. There’s no sign of a shower cubicle in the recesses of the cave, no shelves, not even any dishes to put on them. And yet, and yet … they’ve taken the trouble to fashion things out of fur resembling skirts, which they tie around their waists. Why? Did they have a rudimentary Bible which told them that, once Adam bit the apple, he was aware of his nakedness and covered it up? Why does someone content to eat raw meat and show affection by clubbing his woman feel embarrassed about his genitalia? Was the obsession about size already a factor? It’s always been a disturbing riddle, a profound mystery simmering insolubly in our past.
Well, now we know. If they wore make-up, they must have been more self-aware than we imagined up until now. They cared about their appearance because (as the journalist noted in his article) ‘they were worth it’. All homo sapiens did was daub graffiti on his walls, but Neanderthals decorated themselves, they were proud of their appearance. So pre-history will have to be rewritten and, consequently, our evolutionary notions of our own origins must be modified. Look at today’s TV, our celebrities, our icons – for the most part they consist of appearances. I don’t mean appearing at openings of galleries, first nights at the opera or red carpet premieres, I mean they are what they look like – beautiful, painted, constructed, wrapped in luscious fabrics. The only possible conclusion, then, is that if not all, then quite a lot of us are descended not from homo sapiens but from Neanderthals.
And the more one follows this line of argument the more obviously true it becomes. The careful combination of brutishness and giving precedence to appearance throws a much brighter light on most international relations. All those ancient photos of Bush and Blair strutting together were simply refined examples of mutual grooming. The club is still preferred to reasoned debate and as long as things look right, they are right. For those of us who were despairing of ever seeing the desired perfectibility of humankind, we can stop worrying – we were looking in the wrong direction. The Neanderthals showed the way. Thank God for make-up.