Years later archaeologists/anthropologists figured out that they were not in the Homo sapien chain at all. Then we learn that they actually lived along side Homo sapiens.
Now the latest findings suggest (more than suggest) that we (Europeans and Asians but not Africans) all have Neanderthal DNA, thus inbreeding must have happened between them and us. So, were they human or not?
The other perplexing thing is that they are not in the Biblical narrative . . . at least in a recognizable way. For this reason, evangelicals have always tried to dismiss them.
In the Bible belt (and thanks to some Chick tracts) we were taught that the whole concept of the Neanderthals came from one tooth . . . or was it someone who died in the 1700s but had severe rheumatoid arthritis? I think I heard both stories. Boy, those scientist who came up with the idea of Neanderthals must be pretty stupid . . . you think?
But of course neither of those stories were true. There is an incredible archaeological record about them.
More recently I've heard all kinds of stories from evangelicals to justify their existence. One was that it was a demonic race that had fought with Israel and God had cursed them (I think they pulled that story out of their holy butt hole).
But I love a mystery. Loving mystery is, in my opinion, the way we were created. That's why we go to the moon and want to go to Mars. The universe is God's playground and who wouldn't want to explore it.
Think about this. The Neanderthals lived on this earth for 170,000 years. That is a freakin huge amount of time. Their technology evolved over that period of time of making better spears (by 25%). Maybe a few other improvements in their lives. In contrast, we modern humans (with smaller brains) went from riding horses and reading by whale oil to walking on the moon and quantum computers within 100 years.
But I can't wait to ask God to explain this to me. Did the Neanderthals sin? Did Jesus die for them? He must have. I mean, if I carry Neanderthal DNA (and I'm sure I do) this has to make sense somehow.
A few years ago I was trying to lead a couples' small group Bible study at my house. I think I made a comment about watching a program about the Neanderthals (as I did last night on Nova and that is why I'm writing about this tonight). When we took a snack break one of the guys from my church, an elder, came up and put his arm around my shoulder and said, in a condescending way, "Mike . . . don't believe all you see on TV. The atheist scientists make up all this crap just to make people believe in evolution so that they will leave God. Its all there in Revelations. We are in the last days."
I just shake my head and feel that I belong on Mars more than I do on Earth. But I yearn for the unknown, the mystery, the unimaginable, the perplexing . . . and when we do, I think it makes God smile.