Neanderthals and us

Grant: NWO Open Competition SSH
Project name: Neanderthals and “us”: how the golden age of Neanderthal research challenges human self-understanding
Researcher: prof.dr. Hub Zwart
Timeline: 2022-2026

Neanderthals serve as a mirror to reconsider the question who we are as human beings. Neanderthals are more like us than other early humans, but the guiding conviction was that they were different. Precisely this difference (genetic, behavioural and cultural) allegedly confirmed our exceptionality. The overall trend has been to frame humans as favoured evolutionary “winners”, whose alleged “superiority” led to the demise of Neanderthals. Research questions this. In the face of the global environmental crisis, the human narrative as an evolutionary success story is problematic. These developments trigger us to reconsider our evolutionary narrative from an interdisciplinary perspective. Our project not only provides interdisciplinary evidence for reframing the Neanderthal narrative, but also contributes to the urgent challenge of rethinking our place in nature in such a way that our self–image is no longer based on the logic of domination and dualism (human civilisation versus nature), but grounded in a logic of inclusion, connectedness and embedding. Our interdisciplinary project (involving expertise from philosophy, palaeolithic archaeology and post-colonial gender studies) is based at ESPhil but includes intense collaboration with the Human Origin Group (Leiden University) and the Neanderthal Museum Messman (where Neanderthal remains were discovered in 1856).

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