The opening section of Neanderthal. This is a Sci-fi book like no other – set in today.
It was a sunny day in London. The brightness lit up the fancy brickwork façade on the old main block of the Queen Mary Imperial College, one of the many jewels of London University. On campus students were sprawled on the grass talking. Some were reluctantly strolling along the paths towards the many modern buildings that housed their lectures. It was one of those hot summer days in which nobody had any desire to be inside, indeed, nobody had any desire to do anything, except to loll about in the sun and talk.
But inside the Blizard Hall the Perrin lecture theatre was packed. It seated four hundred, but there was standing room only. They had come to hear Roger Comstock give one of his renowned talks on human evolution. He was the main man and could always be relied on to provide an interesting, lively exposition, with a few quirky controversial ideas thrown in for good measure. It made him extremely popular and well worth forsaking the pleasures of the languid summer heat.
Roger was coming to the end of his lecture.
‘And then there is the mystery of the Neanderthal man,’ Roger shrugged. ‘I feel very close to the Neanderthal,’ he explained with a broad smile. ‘Probably because, as a European, I always carry a bit of Neanderthal around with me. Up to 4% of our genome is made up of Neanderthal genes. They live on in us.’
There was a murmur of asides with some titters of laughter.
‘At one time we coexisted with the Neanderthal. We even bred with them. But then that isn’t so very unusual,’ he cocked his head and chuckled, ‘I’m sure we are all aware of some people who would try to bred with any species they could get their hands on.’
A louder chortle went round the lecture theatre.
‘Now I know some of you purists out there will be a bit sceptical here. Were Neanderthals really a separate species of humans? Surely if they were, by definition, they could not successfully interbreed. Well that is certainly open to debate. Perhaps we should technically regard them as a subspecies? It is a moot point. The truth of the matter is that these people were a distinct second group of humans with genetically different genomes and we did somehow manage to successfully interbreed with them.’
‘Just imagine what it would be like if we shared this planet with other species of man – human beings of a different kind with many characteristics that were not the same. Intelligent people like us but yet dissimilar. How would that affect our psychology?’
He allowed his audience to dwell on that for a moment or two.
‘Perhaps their thought patterns would be very divergent to ours. They might have novel ideas and views on life.’
‘Just think what an impact that might have on the way we behave if we weren’t the only intelligent beings on this planet.’
‘We’d probably wipe them out!’ One bold student called out.
‘hmmf – We probably did,’ Roger replied, peering into the dim vicinity from where the voice had come. He chuckled again. ‘We probably did.’
Turning back to address the auditorium. ‘At one point in our evolution, back in Africa, we did share the planet with other species of humans. There were at least four species of early man who coexisted on that continent. Would it affect our religious outlook? Our view of ourselves? Our social aims? Or our politics? I ask you, would we be different people if we shared this planet with other species of intelligent human beings? Would we see ourselves another way if we did not regard ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution?’
Roger paused and looked down at the floor as if in contemplation before looking back up at his audience.
‘When they dug up those early fossils in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, there was a lot of controversy. To start with there was this huge brain capacity. Neanderthals had considerably bigger brains than us. Their capacity was up to 1,600 cm3 as compared to our modest 1,200 to 1,450 cm3. We certainly couldn’t be having that now could we? It might well indicate that they were a good deal brighter than we were.’
There was another murmur.
‘Of course, brain size doesn’t necessarily equate with intelligence, does it? The sperm whale has a brain that is greatly bigger than humans, as does the elephant. Does that mean they are more intelligent?’
‘Neither of them have to work for a living,’ the same wag called out.
‘No, that is certainly true,’ Roger said smiling broadly, looking round towards the direction of the voice. ‘They don’t have to work. But they do get hunted and killed and none of them have yet developed any technology.’
‘Is developing hydrogen bombs a sign of intelligence?’ the discorporate voice called out.
Roger searched the indistinct shadowy faces for the source of this dialogue. He quite liked getting a response from his audience but liked to put a face to it.
‘Probably not,’ he agreed. ‘But what is certainly true is that human beings do not like their supremacy challenged. There has been much energy expended in attempting to prove that while Neanderthal brains might well be bigger they certainly weren’t smarter. The cynics have churned out paper after paper discussing the relative size of the optical regions and motor regions. According to these research papers, our friends the Neanderthal were brilliant at seeing and controlling their bodies but lacked the cerebral folds to challenge us when it comes to maths or science. They’d be good at body popping though.’
He pursed his lips and shook his head. ‘I’ll leave it to you to check out what you think on that subject and come to your own conclusions.’
‘But I digress,’ Roger said, looking round at them. ‘Getting back to that mystery. Neanderthals prospered in Europe. They had migrated out of Africa at a much earlier stage to us and colonised a wide area. They had developed a rich culture and technology. Their use of fire, tools and cave painting was at least as advanced as ours. But around 40,000 years ago they suddenly all died out. Why was that?
He held his hands out, leaned forward and raised his eyebrows as if wanting to illicit an answer from them.
‘Some say it was due to the climate warming. They were shorter and stockier, with shorter limbs, well-adapted for cool conditions. But personally I don’t hold with that theory. They migrated out of Africa and were highly intelligent. I don’t think they would have evolved that much to find a bit of climate warming a major obstacle. I reckon that if it became too hot for them I think they could easily have migrated further north or followed the herds, just like we did. It does not make sense to me.’
He strode to the side of the stage with his head down, rubbing his chin with his thumb thoughtfully, then stopped and looked back up.
‘Some say it was competition with Homo sapiens that wiped them out. Perhaps it was? We are a pretty competitive and vicious lot.’ He grinned round at them and began pacing to the other side.
‘Another theory is that they were bred out of existence.’ He paused again. ‘There, we’re back to those people who would breed with anything that moved – or indeed, a number of things that didn’t.’
Another chuckle went round the assembly.
‘Personally I don’t hold with any of these views,’ Roger said seriously, coming to a halt and peering round at the gathered students who were all straining to hear what he had to say. ‘All the evidence is that the Neanderthals were highly intelligent, had technology and yet suddenly disappeared off the scene.’
He raised his eyebrows and gestured.
‘So what was it?’ He spread his hands and looked around at his audience. ‘A cataclysmic event – such as volcanic eruptions? But surely that would have affected us too? Or was it a virus that did for them?’
He began pacing again.
‘I guess we’ll never know.’ He shook his head in sadness and then came to a halt centre stage, looking straight ahead. ‘So I guess we’ll never know what it feels like to share the planet with another species of human beings.’
As part of my prestigious Ron Forsythe Science Fiction novel collection I have just released Neanderthal!
It is available in both paperback and digital from Amazon!
This tells the story of an alien encounter like no other!
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