The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
When I was much younger and taking anthropology classes I remember being profoundly struck by the information that the Neanderthal buried their dead with ceremony. If they were a lost link, a dead branch on the evolutionary tree, or assimilated by the next rung on the evolutionary ladder, when I learned this information I knew then that the Neanderthal was more than we were being taught. If a burial is done with ceremony there is some feeling in the psyche that there is more.
In The Last Neanderthal author Cameron introduces us to Girl and her family. They are preparing to join the other families at the fishing site where new families will be formed and their lives will continue. Unbeknownst to Girl’s family the numbers of Neanderthal families are dwindling. Girl’s family meets with difficulties and dangers and because their family is small, they become an even smaller unit. In the end, Girl and Runt, a strange looking foundling who is cared for by Girl’s family, are the ones who must forge on for the sake of survival, not realizing they are the only ones left, and not realizing further that Runt isn’t one of them.
Fast forward 40,000 years to an excavation site run by Rosamund Gale where two skeletons are found lying on their sides, facing each other with arms and hands entwined. Like lovers who fell asleep facing and holding each other. But one of the skeletons is Neanderthal and one is not. It is Rosamund’s task to convince the scientific community that not only did Neanderthal and more modern man coexist, they could have lived together as family. It’s hard to upend a long held scientific thought. Perhaps the Neanderthal’s didn’t just die off or were killed by those who came after. Perhaps there was cooperation and family units. It’s a tough sell but one Rose is determined to prove with this find. But she has the added obstacle of being hugely pregnant and is running head long into chauvinistic opposition.
I thought this might be a decent story, one that was a bit on the Indiana Jones spectrum but I was very and pleasantly surprised it was more than a decent story, it was a very good story, a thinker, and nowhere near Indiana Jones.