Sometimes I wonder why people are so interested in the future. The future is all speculation and “we worry about tomorrow like it’s promised.” But the past! The past is fascinating and in a way more real. At least for me and that’s why I studied history and love museums about the past. When I realized I live only some kilometres from where the Neanderthal people were first found, I had to visit.
So I took the chance of the free holiday Thursday and travelled 20 minutes east by commuter train. Already the journey was some kind of epiphany – going through the small towns with the unattractive names of Erkarth and Mettmann, I realized the area is extremely idyllic and pretty. Green as far as the eye can see! I understand that the Neanderthal people wanted to live there.
The Neanderthal (“Neander valley”) got his name from a painter called Joachim Neumann. Joachim’s dad translated their surname into Greek (totally en vogue in the 1600s) which became Neander. His son was in Düsseldorf for four years and hung out in the valley that later was named after him a lot. He also wrote a very famous German hymn “Lobe den Herren” which might have been inspired by the nature around there. (Swedes also know the song as “Herren, vår Gud är en Konung i makt och i ära” and the English sing “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”.)
The museum did not disappoint, it was a display of very modern and well-done educational work, something you should never take for granted. You could learn about evolution, about how small we humans are in the scheme of things, why the monkeys came down from the trees, which different creation myths different peoples had and how some thing are the same for all humans – and Neanderthalers, like for example initiation rites.
Did you know it was when we started to walk upright that we lost the ape-like body hair? This became a problem for mothers and at the same time the start of the nuclear family. Offspring had no longer mom’s fur to cling to so they had to actively be carried and as the human baby is a premature creature that needs constant supervision, fathers became a more involved. New types of social interaction arose and a tightly-knit social unit was formed.
They even had a great installation where a baby on video tape was lying in the middle surrounded by stand-up displays with statements from people that were related to the baby. On the outside, the modern mother/sister/uncle was quoted, on the inside, the Neanderthal equivalent stated her views. Interestingly enough, the father’s role has – unlike basically all others – not changed dramatically.
Why did these fellows disappear then instead of living in Dizzel today? I learned that the Neanderthalers were much stronger than we are which eventually became their problem when the ice age took away most of their food resources. More muscles, higher metabolic rate – more need for food. The museum did however show how a Neanderthaler could look today. And I didn’t think he looked that unfamiliar.
A visualization of how mankind is growing.