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The Sunday Read: ‘Neanderthals Were People, Too’

In the summer of 1856, workers quarrying limestone in a valley outside Düsseldorf, Germany, found an odd looking skull. It was elongated and almost chinless.

William King, a British geologist, suspected that this was not merely the remains of an atypical human, but belonged to a typical member of an alternate humanity. He named the species Homo neanderthalensis: Neanderthal man.

Guided by racism and phrenology, he deemed the species brutish, with a “moral ‘darkness.’” It was a label that stuck.

Recently, however, after we’d snickered over their skulls for so long, it became clear we had made presumptions. Neanderthals weren’t the slow-witted louts we’d imagined them to be.

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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Carson Leigh Brown, Anna Diamond, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Perez, Marion Lozano, Corey Schreppel, Margaret Willison and Kate Winslett. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.

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