** WINNER OF THE PEN HESSELL-TILTMAN PRIZE 2021 **
'Beautiful, evocative, authoritative.' Professor Brian Cox
'Important reading not just for anyone interested in these ancient cousins of ours, but also for anyone interested in humanity.' Yuval Noah Harari
Kindred is the definitive guide to the Neanderthals. Since their discovery more than 160 years ago, Neanderthals have metamorphosed from the losers of the human family tree to A-list hominins.
Rebecca Wragg Sykes uses her experience at the cutting-edge of Palaeolithic research to share our new understanding of Neanderthals, shoving aside clichés of rag-clad brutes in an icy wasteland. She reveals them to be curious, clever connoisseurs of their world, technologically inventive and ecologically adaptable. Above all, they were successful survivors for more than 300,000 years, during times of massive climatic upheaval.
Much of what defines us was also in Neanderthals, and their DNA is still inside us. Planning, co-operation, altruism, craftsmanship, aesthetic sense, imagination, perhaps even a desire for transcendence beyond mortality. Kindred does for Neanderthals what Sapiens did for us, revealing a deeper, more nuanced story where humanity itself is our ancient, shared inheritance.
Sykes, in her fine debut, draws on her expertise as an anthropologist to create an up-to-date depiction of the Neanderthals as not the "dullard losers on a withered branch of the family tree" she thinks they've too often been portrayed as, but as "enormously adaptable and even successful ancient relatives." She demonstrates how cutting-edge science has illuminated numerous aspects of these archaic humans' lives, from birth (she speculates Neanderthal females acted as midwives for each other during delivery) to death (likely marked by an array of burial rituals). Sophisticated geological and 3D mapping techniques have allowed paleontologists to study minute traces left by the hearth fires around which Neanderthals lived, yielding "the frankly mind-blowing ability to see' a single evening from more than 90,000 years ago." Sykes also cites evidence Neanderthals had a meaningful sense of numeracy, a distinct aesthetic tradition, a knack for technological innovation evinced by carefully wrought stone tools, and a far wider diet, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, than previously assumed. Throughout, Sykes makes the case that Neanderthals were not all that different from Homo sapiens, biologically and behaviorally, and asks the provocative question of "why we are here and not them." While she has no conclusive answer to provide, she brings the history of this long-extinct species to life in assured fashion.