Here is the draft of an essay I’m working on for my ANT 356 course, Neanderthals: Fact, Fiction and Fantasy. For the assignment we were supposed to create a story in which we traveled back in time to observe Neanderthal behaviors. Enjoy.
A wise man once said that journalists are the first hand witnesses of history. When I was employed by The Journal of Neanderthal Studies, I had no doubts that my job would take me to fascinating new heights; that I would be in the front row of many exciting scientific events. Ever since I was young, I’d been fascinated by the history of the human species. Most men my age grew up on issues of Spider-man comic books; I spent my childhood following the adventures of Mark Lehner, Charles Darwin and Don Johanson. Their research steered me to a six-year stint at the University of Chicago where I majored in both Anthropology and Journalism before becoming a staff writer with The Journal of Neanderthal Studies.
It was in May of this year that my request to study the remains of La Chappelle aux Saints Neanderthal man was granted. Over the course of a week we performed a fully detailed re-analysis of the skeleton with the help of a team of British scientists using the most up to date methods of inquiry. While the results of the study were fascinating, I’m sad to say that my report will not be published. I do however, have a much more interesting tale to tell.
It was a stormy Tuesday afternoon when Air France flight 97 touched off from Paris’ Charles De Gaul airport. I was still a bit hung-over from the previous night spent celebrating the success of my trip. My presence in Paris to re-analyze the La Chapelle aux Saints skeleton had been a rewarding endeavor. Tucked in the overhead compartment above me were dozens of photographs, measurements and pages of notes I’d recorded. Just thinking about the amount of information sent a flurry of butterflies through my stomach. I was on my way back to New York to organize what I had and prepare it for publication. The article was going to be a colossal step in my career.
The events around what happened next are still a bit fuzzy. I remember a ferocious bout of turbulence rocked the plane. The cabin lights flickered and oxygen masks dropped from above. I quickly fixed it to my mouth and helped the young women next to me, a young anthropologist named Emma who had been part of the British research team. The plane rocked again, worse than before and I remember people started screaming throughout the plane. I threw open my window shade to find the plane enveloped in a slate gray cloud. The sky was a torn apart by perpetual flashes of lightning and a maelstrom of light was forming in the cloud. The plane began to rock from side to side, eventually dipping into an erratic spin, Emma grabbed my hand but I had no comfort to offer her. I presumed this was the end. I hoped that any minute I’d wake up from this horrible affair safe in my bed. As the plane spiraled through the air, I saw a brilliant blue light streak through the windows. My eyes closed, my body went limp… that’s the last thing I remembered of the plane.
I awoke disoriented, my eyes fighting to focus within the dim plane interior. The first thing I noticed was that the plane wasn’t moving. I couldn’t feel the hum of the engines beneath me. I sat up, ice-cold fear shot through every nerve in my body. If the plane wasn’t moving, that meant we were on the ground. I checked my surroundings. The aircraft was still intact, but from the state of the cabin, I could tell it wouldn’t be flying again. There were bodies tossed about the cabin, the emergency lights weren’t working and the oxygen masks and scattered luggage formed a tangled maze through the cabin.
I was somewhere near the rear of the plane. I stood, giving myself a once over and when I had affirmed my injuries were nothing more than a splitting headache, made my way down the aisle towards the open door at the front of the plane. I spotted my canvas bag in one of the seats and slipped it over my shoulder. Plane crash or not; I wasn’t about to lose my research.
At the door of the plane I was greeted by Emma, she was bruised but alive. She filled in the gaps as best she could. The plane had crashed yesterday and I’d been in and out of consciousness since then. Only a handful of the passengers survived the crash. Among those left behind were the co-pilot, the photographer for The Journal of Neanderthal Studies, Billy Sharp, a German physics instructor, Dr. Heinrich VonBroan and six others. Emma also explained that during the night a strange creature had wandered into the camp. The frightened survivors had cornered the creature and managed to kill it. I didn’t see the importance of the event, but Billy was insisting I come with him and examine the carcass.
Billy and Emma led me towards the wing of the plane where the bloody carcass rested. At first sight I thought the body was human. It was apparent that the creature was bipedal, but the amount of body hair was completely unnatural. The creature’s limbs seemed wider and more solid than our own. And then I spotted the skull, or what was left of it, in particular the brow bone. No, it couldn’t be. I decided to perform a quick autopsy with Emma’s help.
The smell was awful but we fought through it. We first made a Y-incision on the chest using a piece of metal from the wreckage. We examined the organs, which appeared fundamentally similar to our own, but different in minute aspects such as size, especially the stomach which was slightly larger. The contents of the stomach were primarily red meat, but there were slight traces of seeds and what appeared to be berries.
Next, I examined the skull, which was in poor condition; the face had been smashed in by what appeared to be a large rock. I measured the cranium paying careful attention to the rather large size of the rear of the skull, the supra-orbital ridge and the presence of the receding forehead. With my curiosity peeked, I told Emma I wanted measurements of the femur which we extracted in a matter of a few minutes. I took careful notes on the size and thickness of the bone, as the numbers were revealed, my head began to spin.
With the autopsy complete, a few of the survivors agreed to bury the body. I washed my hands in a nearby stream then returned to my notes. I could only shake my head as I compared my two sets of notes, the ones from the La Chappelle aux Saints skeleton and the ones from the creature in front of me. My rudimentary autopsy led me to deduce that they were the same creature. Astounding! Here in front of me was the carcass of a Neanderthal man!
The others were anxious to know what my autopsy had revealed. I explained what I had found, that all my evidence ruled that the creature was a Neanderthal. Some of the survivors found this impossible to believe, including the co-pilot who was convinced it was Bigfoot. It wasn’t until Dr. VonBroan chimed in that the pieces began falling into place. VonBroan seemed to think that the storm the plane had come across had been a miracle of science and the magnificent glow of light we had seen had likely been the long sought Einstein-Rosenberg Bridge, or simply put, a wormhole through time. A debate arose between the passengers. If we had traveled back in time, then our presence would certainly alter the course of human events. For all we knew we might have already destroyed the future of mankind. On the contrary, from what the doctor knew, this was untrue. He explained that when an Einstein-Rosenberg bridge forms and an individual travels back in time, a completely identical reality is created from that point. If not, then our actions would have a direct effect on the future, thus altering human history and permitting us from ever making the trip back in time to begin with. Translation: we were welcome to do whatever we like with no repercussions to the future of human history.
With this newfound understanding of our situation I was anxious to set out and see what we could find in this prehistoric playground. Based on the dates of Neanderthals and what I knew about our location, I estimated we had fallen somewhere around a hundred and thirty thousand and sixty thousand years before the Common Era. I was convinced there must be more creatures out there like this one. I immediately assembled an expedition, which only Billy and Emma agreed to join. The other survivors were resolute in staying with the wreckage. We scavenged the cabin, grabbing whatever we thought would come in handy. We managed to break into the stewardess cabinet and we filled our pockets with salted peanuts, pretzels, and bottles of water.
Before we set out, Billy pointed out a small wisp of smoke in the distance. Whether it was a part of the plane we couldn’t be sure but we decided to investigate in hopes that it may be a group of Neanderthals. We set off at once, determined to get as far as we could before sunset.
We kept to high ground, moving along the top of a nearby ridge, which provided us with an excellent view of the dense pine forest in the valley below. The ground was littered with coin-sized pebbles and small rudimentary grasses. I could imagine that they were remnants of a recent glacier, which had now receded just to the North. It could still be seen in the form of a thick white line stretching from one side of the horizon to the next.
I spotted creatures grazing. A herd of red deer picked through the valley floor while a family of cave bear waded through a shallow stream collecting fish. There was even a long extinct giant deer just on the edge of the tree line that scrambled to safety at first sight of us. Billy snapped pictures left and right, but I urged him to save his film in case we happened to stumble upon one of the Neanderthals.
Eventually we lost sight of the smoke trail. With the sun quickly descending in the sky we decided to turn back. I had wandered into the foliage to tend to nature when a strange sound caught my ears. First a loud hiss, then a roar, and finally what sounded like a cry for help. Fearing it was Billy or Emma, I rushed towards the ruckus.
I hurried into the clearing unknowingly rushing into a situation out of my control. A large feline, which I quickly recognized as a cave lion was pacing around a small Neanderthal child. The hominid sat motionless, its mouth slightly agape, its chest heaving with panicked breaths. Between the hunter and the hunted lay the corpse of an adult Neanderthal. With one victim down, the lion was anxiously waiting to make a second kill. The cave lion bared its fangs and took a step forward, preparing to pounce. I had to intervene.
With the creature unaware of my presence I grabbed a nearby rock. I tossed the softball-sized projectile, catching the cat directly in the shoulder and startling it. I followed up with another rock, and another, hoping that this rudimentary form of defense would hold. The cat stared long and hard at me, but began to back away. The lion grabbed its prey by the neck and dragged the corpse off leaving me alone with the small Neanderthal child.
I was no good with kids, in fact they terrified me. Perhaps it was because I did not know how to communicate with them, but I felt a pressing desire to interact with this boy. He sat cowering in the middle of the clearing, unsure how to approach me. I reached into my pocket and withdrew a pretzel then cautiously stepped forward and offered the treat to the young Neanderthal. He sat motionless, watching me from underneath his protruding brow. I took a bite and smiled and then offered it back. He had no sooner swallowed the cracker that he was reaching out for another. After three or four pretzels I had earned his trust and allowed me to lead him by the hand back to camp.
Our return was less celebrated than I had expected. Even after explaining to situation to the others, many of them were unsettled that I had brought the boy into camp. While I defended my case, I watched him interact with Emma. He was fascinated by her blond hair and even had allowed her to hold him in her arms. Fearing the child stood no chance alone, it was decided he would stay with us until we found a way back to the present or we could return him to his rightful clan.
I decided to call him Charlie Brown because of the auburn hair that covered his body. I spent most of the early evening observing his behavior, which seemed quite friendly considering the difference in species. It was apparent that this afternoon’s ordeal had won his trust. It was Emma’s idea to examine the boy and learn as much as we could about his physiological makeup and his behavior.
While Charlie Brown poked through the contents of my bag, Emma gave him a checkup. Judging from the size of his frame, the boy looked to be about five year of age. Emma used a small flashlight to check his ears, which were quite similar to our own in shape and size. The skin on his face was fair in color but was much thicker than human skin. We found a few fleas in his hair, which we removed. The hair itself was rough in texture. It was thin around his chest and back, but his forearms and legs were quite hairy.
We checked his mouth, which he wasn’t very fond of. His teeth were still fairly white, reinforcing the fact that he was quite young. The front incisors were small, compared to his molars. I found myself shaking my head as I compared my observations of Charlie Brown with the skeleton of the Piltdown man. There was no doubt in my mind that Piltdown man was a hoax, the proof was in the mandible alone. As I examined his jawbone it was evident that the shape was much more human than apelike.
I’m not sure if Charlie Brown could speak or whether it was still to young to communicate, but he was a quick learner. It opened my shaving kit with its apelike hands and examined the contents. His protruding brow shadowed his large dark eyes as he stared in curiosity at each item. His large nostrils wiggled in interest as it held each piece up to smell. I was astounded by the similarities it shared with both humans and primates. He examined things with the curiosity of a chimpanzee, but his logic and problem solving skills were undoubtedly much more human. With physical exam out of the way, we decided next to test him.
Billy found a toy ball in the wreckage that we tossed back and forth to him. Emma noted that his throws were much more precise than a human child’s of the same age. She attributed the precision to a faster rate of maturity. Billy hid a pretzel and made him guess which hand it was in. As Billy shuffled his hands, Charlie Brown would bounce excitedly on his haunches while keeping a close eye on the correct hand. He loved pretzels.
To reward him for being so well behaved, one of the survivors wrestled up a child’s sized shirt in the wreckage and we placed it on him, much to his happiness. Charlie Brown poked and pulled at the fabric and then ran circles around the campfire in excitement. He had us all in stitches and he seemed to be enjoying the fact that he was the center of attention.
After the sunset, the forest around us came alive with sounds. Charlie Brown grew particularly excited by the strange noises that echoed in the distance. I felt the presence of something, just beyond our line of sight, but had no proof if anything was really there. One of the survivors agreed to keep watch while we slept.
I awoke early the next morning, Billy was violently shaking me. I sat up to see the campsite surrounded in silhouettes. There were at least a half dozen of them, all adults, all much larger versions of Charlie Brown, the tallest maybe around five foot five inches. Their bodies, except for their faces, were covered in thick brown body hair and each of them wore deerskin loin clothes to cover their genitals. A few of the males carried large staffs that were sharpened at the end, the held the weapons at their sides. No one moved; not us, not them. Only Charlie Brown. He shuffled over to one of the males and greeted him with a hug. I was shocked to hear the male speak to the small boy. Charlie Brown responded, though his words weren’t as pronounced as the older males. Their language was very simple and contained a lot of hard consonants. It was music to my anthropological ear.
The male then stepped forward and spoke, bowing his head several times and patting Charlie Brown on the head. I gathered from their behavior that the creatures were not hostile. I like to think that Charlie Brown had explained our kindness to them, but having no understanding of their language this was only a guess. I stood, motioning them to sit around the fire with us. Slowly, the clan moved closer to the survivors and I. They seemed fascinated by our clothing and we gave them time to examine our dress.
One of the males spoke to the other Neanderthals; his voice was deep and commanding. Immediately, the two Neanderthal females tended to the fire while the males formed a semi circle around the survivors and I. Emma had made a quick trip to the plane to get more pretzels and salted peanuts. Another male joined us in the camp carrying one of the red deer we had seen earlier. He and another male began work on defleshing the animal with stone tools they had carried with them. They worked quickly, pausing only to resharpen their tools before disjointing the deer and stripping it of its meat. The men worked with uncalculated precision. In a matter of minutes there was nothing left of the animal except the bones, which they cracked and sucked the marrow from. One of the Neanderthal men, whom I referred to as Scarface because of the large gash that ran from his forehead to his chin, offered me some of the marrow, but I declined. For those of us who had spent the last few days living on pretzels and peanuts, the smell of the roasting meat was tantalizing. They cooked the meat for only a few minutes, preferring to eat it rare. Their kindness was revealed in their distribution of the meat to the humans first, then to the Neanderthal women, Charlie Brown and finally the male Neanderthals.
After dinner, we distributed some of the liquor and soda to our guests, which they seemed to greatly enjoy. If someone had told me a week ago that I’d be sitting around a campfire drinking rum and Cokes with a group of Neanderthals I would have said they were completely mad. We gave them a tour of the plane wreckage. The Neanderthals observed two of the survivors who had been digging graves for our fallen comrades and then much to our amazement began helping in the effort. Together we removed the bodies from the plane and placed each one in an earthen grave. The male Neanderthals placed the bodies in fetal positions while the women scattered flowers they had picked over the bodies. I was shocked that I was witnessing funeral rituals and thought back to the research I had performed in college involving the Neanderthals burials in Iraq. I had been so sure that the presence of flowers in the burials had been a coincidence but now I could see I was clearly wrong. Once all the bodies were laid to rest, we then worked together to cover the bodies with dirt and marked each one with a stone.
That afternoon a violent storm began to form just north of us towards the glacier. Dr. VonBroan said that the storm bore similar characteristics to the one that had brought us to this time and that if we had any hopes of returning to the present era we had best investigate. The survivors assembled and we bid farewell to our kind friends before setting off towards the glacier. We presented the Neanderthals with our remaining supplies and did our best to communicate our thanks. It was very difficult to say goodbye to Charlie Brown I gave him a hug and presented him with my last bag of pretzels and the rubber ball before setting off towards the glacier.
Before we reached the glacier we came upon the same glowing whirlpool that was our ticket home. I took once glance back at the prehistoric landscape, thinking of the miracle that just happened. I thought of how our brief interaction with these people may affect the course of human history in this dimension. Perhaps Neanderthal man had a fitting chance to survive this time around. Surely the presence of the plane and the relics of our time spent would keep their minds busy for years to come. With any luck they’d have the knowledge to fight extinction. With that I stepped into the glowing vortex, and returned home.