‘Race’ and the Changing Representations of Neanderthals


This essay first identifies a significant shift in the way Neanderthals have been represented and talked about in both the realms of mainstream science and the mainstream Western media. Within the space of a little over a decade, our early human relatives have been transformed from primitive and inept “savages” to far more sophisticated prototypes of ourselves. The author then proposes that an important but overlooked reason for this rapid change lies in a ground-breaking discovery that only came to light in recent years: the fact that Neanderthal DNA is to be found in today's non sub-Saharan Africans. Such a discovery, the essay holds, suddenly made scientists, journalists and television producers much more receptive to the idea (which had already been floating around, largely neglected, for years) that they had got the Neanderthals entirely wrong. As is argued below, racism and racial ideology have had a distorting influence on Western scientific discourse and practice for the better part of a hundred years. The recent rehabilitation of the Neanderthals may not be the most obvious instance of racial theory guiding scientific discussion and consensus, but, as is this essay contends, there is a strong correlation that cannot and should not be ignored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-78
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Geography(United Kingdom)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Ciencia
  • Ciencia y medios de comunicación
  • Eugenesia
  • Eugenics
  • Neandertales
  • Neanderthals
  • Race
  • Race and the Neanderthals
  • Racism and Archaeology
  • Racismo y arqueología
  • Raza
  • Raza y los neandertales
  • Representaciones de los neandertales
  • Representations of Neanderthals
  • Science
  • Science and the Media

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