Historian traces rise of celebrity hominid fossils
After decades of research revealing their sophisticated lives, Neanderthals still can’t shake their reputation as knuckle-dragging cavemen. And it’s the Old Man of La Chapelle’s fault.
The Old Man of La Chapelle was the first relatively complete Neanderthal skeleton ever found. Three French abbés discovered the bones in 1908. Soon after, geologist and paleontologist Marcellin Boule analyzed the remains. His conclusion: The ancient individual was a hunched, dim-witted savage. At the time, little was known about human evolution, and Boule’s findings made headlines worldwide. The publicity helped to sear the image of the brutish Neanderthal into the public’s mind — so much so that even after subsequent studies determined the Old Man had arthritis and suffered from other abnormalities, it was too late to break the caveman stereotype. Read more.