Mythic monsters

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.


satyr21Sexual predators in Roman mythology

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.



Throughout history, every culture has conceived of hairy creatures that prey on human females, often at night and almost always for sexual gratification.


The eyes have

goblin-2Prey 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.


The preoccupation with scary-eyed monsters goes back to the earliest art and transcends every culture
The preoccupation with scary-eyed monsters goes back to the earliest art and transcends every culture. It is no less prevalent in modern times, many modern movie monsters feature these striking eyes. (See below)



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


hairy wildman_abducting_womanBy the middle ages, the ‘hairy wildman’ was well entrenched in European mythology as a malevolent forest dwelling brute, who usually wielded a club and abducted innocent women.



T&U-wildman montageB

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

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.

The image (above right) is a forensic reconstruction of a Neanderthal based on Vendramini's reassessment of Neanderthal physiology. The similarities to the imaginary creatures from myth and folklore are obvious, suggesting that a likeness of our former predator was encoded into the human genome during our evolutionary past.

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.