Faculty member examines Neanderthal image

By Donald Roth Jr.

When people are asked to give their definition of a Neanderthal, a common picture is painted —slow, dumb and boorish.”My old roommate was one,” said Tim Corrigan, a 22-year-old geography major.But if Fred Smith had his way, this kind of thinking would be erased.

Smith, chair of the NIU anthropology department, has written a paper dealing with the Neanderthal person, “The Neanderthals: A Postcranial Perspective.”After extensive research on the topic, Smith said he concluded the Neanderthal person was quite robust, heavily muscled, and actually moved similar to the modern human. But the misunderstanding and confusion about the intelligence of the Neanderthal person remains.

“It began around 1910 when paleontologists anatomically described and displayed the Neanderthal’s skull falsely,” Smith said.As recently as 1960 it was believed that Neanderthals lacked the features of the frontal lobes and cerebral cortex of the brain, resulting in lower intelligence faculties, he said. A Neanderthal’s skull retreats, unlike a human’s skull, which caused the assumption.After computer-aided topography tests revealed otherwise, Smith said the Neanderthal is now thought to have relatively the same size brain as the modern human.

Smith did not focus solely on the cranial features of the pre-man subspecies. Smith’s paper began to develop from the postcranial features he studied.”In the early 1970s my colleagues and myself recognized a morphology in the pelvic region of Neanderthals and began to place an increased importance on postcranial regions,” Smith said.

Anthropology and the study of the Neanderthal person has led Smith to numerous international destinations, including Croatia, Germany and other parts of central Europe.Smith said it has been a slow crawl to change the image of the Neanderthal; however, progress is being achieved.

“As far as I’m concerned,” said Jackie Margraff, a 21-year-old special education major, “they were the beginning of progress and intelligence for human beings.”

Smith will deliver a speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago next month.