Neanderthals in art, myths and movies
Danny Vendramini argues that, like all prey species, early humans acquired the innate ability to identify Neanderthals and remain hyper-vigilant for tell-tale signs of their presence.
In modern humans, this vestigial ‘predator identification’ module is still expressed in art, myths, movies and other cultural forms.
Our genetic fear of Neanderthal sexual predation is manifest in the countless myths and legends about half-man/half-beast sexual fiends who kidnap and rape women.
The Roman mosaic (below) from Pompeii is a typical example. It depicts a cloven footed Pan with an erection, assaulting a bound woman.
The eyes have
Prey species have an innate ability to identify their natural predator in order to effect escape strategies. Vendramini argues that the distinctive eyes of Neanderthals provided a quick and reliable means of identifying them, so these optical features have been hardwired into our genes.
Today, this innate fear is expressed in a universal portrayal of bug eyed monsters that transcend the history of art and culture. This preoccupation with the tell-tale eyes of threat is winds through art, mythology and movies.
Werewolves, vampires and other night stalkers
Them+Us also examines the pervasive belief in ferocious nocturnal predators that prey on humans after dark. He reveals it to be yet another vestige of Neanderthal predation. We fear the dark because Neanderthals were nocturnal hunters.
Neanderthals in medieval art
In the early 16th century French illustrated manuscript (below) a naked woman is rescued from a sexual attack by two wildmen who are then burnt alive.
Picture courtesy of the British Library
Neanderthals in popular culture
Artistic expressions of creatures that possess Neanderthal characteristics are not limited to ancient times. The way modern artists, hoaxers, villagers and filmmakers depict the Yeti, Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot and other imaginary creatures (below left) bears an uncanny resemblance to the latest scientific reconstruction of a Eurasian Neanderthal (below right) commissioned by Danny Vendramini.
Vendramini suggests a likeness of our former predator was encoded into the human genome during our evolutionary past. It is this innate ‘predator recognition’ module that is subliminally expressed in art, myths, movies and legends.
Neanderthals at the movies
Movies like Planet of the Apes, The Descent, The Blair Witch Project, The Exorcist, and The Terminator unwittingly tap into our innate Neanderthal fears to dramatic effect, as do the nocturnal zombies from I Legend and the hairy Morlocks with their glowing eyes from The Time Machine.