August’s Featured Book

This month’s featured book that the Center for Cognitive Archaeology faculty want to highlight is Neanderthal Language: Demystifying the Linguistic Powers of our Extinct Cousins by Rudolf Botha.

UCCS Associate Professor Karenleigh A. Overmann says of the book:

Neanderthal Language tackles one of the most controversial and hotly debated topics in paleoanthropology and cognitive evolution: the questions of whether, and if so, how, Neanderthals might have differed from contemporary Homo sapiens. This astute and timely book navigates a complex, often contentious literature that encompasses the mutually opposed positions that Neanderthals were either indistinguishable from H. sapiens (Villa & Roebroeks, 2014) or differed from them in ways that were visible to natural selection but did not entail their brutishness or incompetence (Wynn, Overmann, & Coolidge, 2016). While Prof. Botha’s specific focus is whether or not Neanderthals had language, he also examines issues like the degree to which language is necessary for making stone tools, as well as the evidence for other behaviors attributed to Neanderthals—personal ornamentation, cave art, use of ochre, burial, and hunting—particularly in regards to the way these have been used to argue for or against Neanderthal language. The result is a comprehensive review and critique of the full range of current Neanderthal studies, written in a succinct and highly accessible prose.

Independent of any specific interest in either Neanderthals or language, Prof. Botha’s book makes another substantial contribution to the state-of-the-art by dissecting the arguments being made in the literature for and against Neanderthal language. Here the author offers a cogent, coherent, and comprehensive analysis of how a sound inferential argument is to be constructed from interdisciplinary data. Given the increasing popularity of interdisciplinarity in the quest to understand human cognitive evolution, Prof. Botha’s discussion of the art of inferential argumentation addresses a critical need. This is especially true for Neanderthal research, where the ability to argue from disparate evidence is both crucial and often imperfectly achieved, as he so capably illustrates with numerous examples from the literature. The result is a masterful “must read” surely destined to become a classic in the field.

Villa, P., & Roebroeks, W. (2014). Neanderthal demise: An archaeological analysis of the modern human superiority complex. PLoS One, 9(4), 1–10.

Wynn, T., Overmann, K. A., & Coolidge, F. L. (2016). The false dichotomy: A refutation of the Neanderthal indistinguishability claim. Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 94, 1–21.