Why Are There No Neanderthal Ghosts?

  • Posted on: 5 May 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

Neanderthan ManLast year, I started on a book that I am calling “Eve of the People.” I like science fiction, but I’m a stickler for realism, so it’s a Chinese water torture to get things wrong. What an SF writer cannot predict is how quickly we invent the gadgets seen in sci-fi. If you look at the bridge of the Enterprise with its jube-jube buttons and lights and how quickly we have raced past that, it speaks to how fast we progress. Fantasy feels neck deep in swords, sandals, hobbits and kids that fall through hedges into other fantastical worlds. Even when I, as a nerdy kid, played D&D I felt like saying, “this is a cheap rip-off of Tolkien!” I like the literary position of fantasy. It can be anything. It can transcend the norms, but use the norms as cleats to anchor the story. It can happen any time. It can even happen 50,000 years in the past.

When drilling for what I wanted to say, I wanted to talk about our planet and the people. I watch as communication breakdowns put people at each others throats. I watch the news and see genocide because the men with lashes cannot feel the stings they incur on their victims. I wondered “what if we suffered as our foes?” What if we were a people who could not smack our kin because we would know how the harm felt in that fresh instant? What if this persists to the hunter gatherer mindset? What if bleeding out the last iota of life from a rabbit were keenly felt by the hunter? What if that were not a fantasy, but the de facto way our world works? What if the crisp feeling of a life winking out came with every meal? Perhaps one would only eat what they needed. Maybe they would take the sickly doomed of the herd, instead of the robust, meaty and hard to obtain alphas who could live on well if they didn’t fall prey? When a wolf pack picks off the weak, maybe its the dynamics of getting easy prey. What if it were a glimmer of conscience? What if conscience were a constant in nature akin to beasts that breathe? What if homo sapiens were the only species on the planet that had to learn conscience? What if it’s such an alien trait that we lapse on it time and again? That’s at the core of what I am doing in this novel. I am telling the story of a people at peace in their world and the species that supplanted them.

What I am doing with Eve of the People is try to tell a tale of the Neanderthals. They look like homo sapiens and have many traits in common. As we strive to be one with nature or ask the bigger questions, I have painted the Neanderthals as the last homonid species to actually have a sense peace with their world. They hear it. They abide by it. When the world leave them no room, they disappear. The novel is being broken into three parts. This is in homage to The Canticle For Leibowitz that told of our world after a nuclear war. It broke it into three stories: the brutal post war, the primitive but building world some centuries later, and the futuristic world much later that was on the eve of repeating its past mistakes. In Eve of the People, I have three smaller stories:
Eve of the People: a band of Neanderthals encounter humans for the first time. This introduces us to the life of “The People” -- I consciously used the gender neutral term to describe Neanderthals. If the People are awake to all of the feelings of those around them, they would be innately egalitarian.
The Hungry Man: The second story jumps further ahead to when the Neanderthals and homo sapiens populations are clashing. The homo sapiens (whom I call “Men”, in part because we call ourselves “human” and in part to contrast the gender specificity and absence of egalitarianism) are a species without a sense of homeostasis. They will decimate herds without a care for the future. They are a brutal species who are excellent at thinking, but poor at understanding their place in the world. They push through the Neanderthal regions like locusts.
The Dawn of Man: We move much further ahead to the time where Neanderthal populations are doomed. I want to close off book with the twilight of the People and dawn of Man.

My friend and I will have long coffees and bat around philosophical issues. He is a committed atheist. I am a monotheist. I feel that the absence of tangible proof of the supernatural is the absence of evidence, not the evidence of absence. I maintain that the inability to assess something cannot negate its existence. Likewise, someone else’s valid say-so with good evidence, should be enough to not create a mindset of wholesale discounting. Otherwise people without telescopes are free to disbelieve Pluto; or that Tatooine is as real as Africa, because I have been to both places zero times, so they are still both, similarly unreal. The truth doesn’t need a show of hands. Keith and I talked about the spirit world. There are plenty of ghost stories-- spirits who haunt old mansions. If those are souls, why are they old dead white dudes? Three hundred years of old dead white dudes in North America. Five thousand years of dead Indians. In Europe, you would have hundreds of thousands of years or dead Neanderthals and other precursor species. If there are so very many dead non-homo sapiens, why are all the ghosts dudes in powdered wigs? Where are the Neanderthal ghosts? My answer and the spark for this novel: Heaven didn’t admit the old white dudes because they’re not fit for Heaven, so they go back to the old mansion. It’s the Neanderthals who are kicking back behind the pearly gates, enjoying a disembodied eternity after having lived in concert with nature, the world and the Creator who got the ball rolling. Homo sapiens don’t have the credentials to get in.

You’ve seen kids play house. They wear their parent’s clothes and the big shoes then act as if they have chores, deadlines and things to do at the office. They don’t. It’s why a ten year old cannot handle the Penske file. They can parrot what they see, but they cannot pick-up the inner workings by osmosis. Children take an incomplete palette from their parents and flesh that out as best they can.

In my story I am working from the approach that what we pantomime, the Neanderthals actually experienced. The concept of a soul and honor of the departed spirits is a subject of much debate; from a scientific perspective there is no evidence of the soul nor of the afterlife. Ask a blind man to describe the colour of butter. What if the reason we can disprove the fantasy of the soul is because we don’t have the sense to experience this? What if our test subjects (humans) lack souls? No vision. No butter. No proof.

Still, why did we think there’s this little immortal unfindable thing is in us all? It is a weird and abstract concept to stitch into the beliefs of almost every human culture. What if we were pantomiming our parents. What if, during the inundation of homo sapiens, there was a period with a knowledge transfer? I would argue that Neanderthals would have scenarios where they meshed and interbred with the homo sapiens; and, I would argue that some homo sapiens would have taken Neanderthals as trophies and slaves. The Neanderthal populations would be wired to sense and participate in the spirit world. Psychics today are easy to disprove because they make lousy predictions. What if the “witch woman” (one of the Neanderthals or part-Neanderthals) could see the unseen, parlay with animals, and draw on the wisdom of the departed? That would be an edge. As we often do, maybe the homo sapien populations didn’t know they shouldn’t kill the goose that lay the golden egg. Instead of preserving the Neanderthal people to some mutual advantage, they supplanted them and mostly bred them out from their own genelines? Even though the Neanderthals were gone, the job description of shaman remained. Those taking up the rattles had to still fill their parent’s shoes-- even if they were mostly blind to the world they needed to channel. Imagine the massive difference between using faith to connect with the intentions of the supernatural as opposed to having that access readily at hand. Maybe the homo sapiens would invent more elaborate and structured belief systems to mimic the speed-dial to God. Maybe, with that dropped call, they would go off course and nudge in cultural beliefs as though they were okay substitute rules for admission to Heaven? History shows that we supplanted the Neanderthals. We’re here and the Neanderthals have left some genetic traces in our DNA, but they’re long gone.

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Monday, September 30, 2019 - 17:12