This is a hypothesis on Neanderthal society based on the apparent fact that they had no known jewelry . A hypothesis is a proposition made as a basis for reasoning, without any assumption of its truth. Given that everyone has a history that influences the way they perceive the world, I admit to having one too, and that this is one of the cases where ‘anthropomorphism’ is appropriate.
Among Homo sapiens, jewelry and clothing are tribal badges which define social standing. Any kind of self defined group has it’s own symbolic badge: Monks robes, biker colors, suit & briefcase, Navajo turquoise. It’s built in & we do it without thinking. There's no evidence that Neanderthals used jewelry or other physical representations of abstract thinking.
But the hypothesized case of Neanderthals without social badges, could translate to their entire population being co-operative and egalitarian, perhaps the same as the herd animals that they hunted. I kind of doubt that, because other social carnivores, like wolves and chimpanzees, do have tribes and castes without badges, instead defined by behavior and smell.
Neanderthals may have defined their groups that way too. For example aromatic substances like pitch (tree sap) or mud, would be useful for primarily carnivorous hunters to prevent detection by game because those smells also mask body odor. Antiseptic qualities of pitch and anaerobic mud have benefit when dealing w/ the possibility of contaminated or spoiled meat, and in fact pitch has been found on many of their hand axes. It’s been suggested that pitch on hand axes was to assure a good grip, and to prevent slipping hands when climbing up the back legs of mammoths to attack their lumbar vertebrae w/ the axe. (many neanderthal mammoth kills have smashed lumbar vertebrae). Pitch could also be seen (smelled) as an indication of an adult/hunter/provider/mate.
When meeting Homo sapiens in the egalitarian scenario, without social badges, they would assume communality with us, but be seen by us as homeless grafters. That is: assuming, threatening, uncomfortably personal, and expecting a share of the food and fire. Add to that a smell of mud or pitch and tendency to claim social respect through hormones and personal confrontation. I’m assuming they were confrontational because they were carnivorous predators who ate mostly large animals, so shy reticence meant starvation, and every social animal (that I know of) has a hierarchy of dominance.
My guess is that we avoided them whenever possible, and protected our women from them because of differing rules of behavior. Any children they sired among H. sapiens could mature early , and be like the ultimate Red Haired Stepchild who also eats all the camp dogs. Therefore outcast for their hormonal behavior, and culled from H. sapiens gene pool.
The other possibility of H. sapiens crosses raised by Neanderthals however, would mature late by their standards and be at a physical disadvantage for strength, assertion, finding mates, and weaning too soon, w/ possible intolerance for an all meat diet. However growing up with them would give one access to helpful intestinal flora.
Like us, they probably had formal rules of behavior to signal non aggression. Their tolerance for other people may be questionable though because of sparse and probably nomadic populations, with social badges limited to family faces, everybody else would be an outsider. Their genetic diversity itself however could translate to social badges, represented as it is in canines by differences in hair-eye color, size, and hunting specialty. And one could assume their disdain for each others tribes (evident from (rumored) broad genetic diversity, I assuming if there was less diversity it would be because they were easy to get along with), would also extend to H. sapiens as well. There’s seems to be some disagreement though on the extent of said diversity, some say it’s more narrow than Sapiens, others say the genetic difference between Neanderthal groups was greater than between Chimps and Humans. The dust will have to settle on that .
This then is the scenario when Neanderthals and Sapiens handle disputed territory:
Any encounters would probably be planned and result from first observing the other party from concealment or a distance to determine their threat potential. If the either species ever considered the other to be equal humans, they would test their communal standing by presenting themselves as hunting partners and mates. But I can’t imagine such an interview would have gone too well (unless the receiving group were starving. In which case, why bother.) and they would probably have been rejected by Sapiens, (you hairy naked people stay away from my kids!). So without mutual need and negotiations exhausted, a Sapiens attack would be w/ spears and slings and a Neanderthal attack would be hand to hand. I imagine a hand axe would just be in the way with a small agile adversary because it slows down and occupies one hand, making the other only half effective, only good for trying to catch and hang onto a victim. Again implying close quarters. But this assumes warlike engagements which are a Sapiens specialty. A more probable Neanderthal confrontation would be in surprising a lone individual or a group surrounding a smaller Sapiens group, and chase them to an untenable position like game. Then either a twist of the neck or a hand axe from behind. A one on one altercation with neither side possessing weapons would probably go to the Neanderthal.
But because Sapiens have longer childhoods, family groups would be larger to take care of the kids. Sapiens also had spears and stone slings to keep an attacker at a distance which would defeat a Neanderthal fighting style. It’s possible that Neanderthal relations molded Sapiens communities by forcing large groups of Sapiens to live and work together for protection.
A lack of social badges probably meant male Neanderthals were sort of like Orangutans, each having a piece of the woods to themselves, other males could live there quietly if they didn’t advertise for mates. I imagine they wouldn’t cooperate too well except when in mutual need, and would all be delighted to be next in succession if the dominant male got speared while challenging the skinny Sapiens. Females probably lived in small family groups.
There is the wild Sylvius scenario though where a young Neanderthal goes out looking for his own turf. He approaches a Sapiens camp, is unimpressed by the lanky men, sees the long legged girls and asks "hey can I help with things". Times are hard and the camp needs to eat so they say sure, see if you can catch some food. Later he comes to live on the hill nearby. And when the moon's right, girls sometimes sneak over there to see how he's doing. The tribe raises his red haired kids with local tips on how to control them (still a problem) & he brings in an occasional reindeer. These things sometimes work.
- There's some disagreement about whether Neanderthals had jewelry or if the sole example found was Sapiens @ 50k YBP. The article suggests that population density causes abstract thinking, I tend to agree but how you gonna prove it? Also Neanderthal Jewelry (University of Kansas)
- Neandertal Children Developed on the Fast Track (Science Now)
- Neandertal DNA Spells Separate Origins