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Ode to the Last Neandertal [Video]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Gorham's Cave

The view out of Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar, where traces of the last known Neandertals have been recovered. Image: Kate Wong

On a recent visit to Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar I stood in the dark, damp recesses of the seaside limestone cavern and cried. I had come to see the site of the last known Neandertals, who lived here some 28,000 years ago. Situated on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar was a refuge for Neandertals for thousands of years when climate change rendered the northerly parts of their range uninhabitable. But eventually they could no longer hang on and Neandertals as a distinctive human group went extinct.

I had spent the day exploring the Neandertal stomping grounds along the coast of the southern tip of Iberia with a group of paleoanthropologists, archaeologists and ecologists who had come to Gibraltar to attend a human evolution conference, and Gorham’s was our final stop. After viewing the cave’s archaeological deposits we were treated to a live performance. Ecologist Doug Larson of the University of Guelph pulled out his guitar and performed a song he wrote about the last Neandertal, called “Last Man Standing.” It was incredibly moving to hear this song while at the Neandertals’ final outpost looking out over the turquoise sea to the north coast of Africa, to think about the demise of our cousins who endured longer than our own kind has existed. Filmmaker David Valentine spontaneously captured the moment on video, which you can watch below.

LAST MAN STANDIN, May 3, 2005 © D.Larson

Pull the hood down on my face,
feel the cold wind steal my grace
Beg the sun to warm my back
beg the hunger not to attack

200 000 years of peace
all coming down to .this
Left here all alone the others I will miss,
now it’s just me, me and the abyss

think I’m the
last man standing
the last one to recall
the last man standing
wonderin, wonderin,

I can recall the land was ours,
I can recall the many hours
I spent chipping at the stone,
now there’s nothin left nothing left but bones

We were hundreds just last year,
then the cold came and the fear
We saw Africa across the straight
but we cannot swim and cannot wait

See our mark upon the land, see my footprints in the sand

think I’m the
last man standing
the last one to fall
think I’m the
last man standing
wonderin, wonderin

*Post updated 9/28/12 at 12:54 EDT to include song lyrics

About the Author: Kate Wong is an editor and writer at Scientific American covering paleontology, archaeology and life sciences. Follow on Twitter @katewong.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. mrsruthless49 9:57 pm 09/28/2012

    Thank you so much, Kate Wong, for all of your recent work on Neandertals, and most especially this video clip and original song. Following the saying: ‘if you want to know where you are going, see where you have been’ lead to the publication of my book: Prehistoric Times. Knowing genetically that I was, as a white European, from Neadertal decent, drew me to research the Iberian Peninsula and caught me up with all your tweets about the same time. My favorite color is black, I love ravens, so eerie! But thank you again, your work is
    deeply appreciated, as is the original song by Mr. Larson. {Prehistoric Times: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3549423} thank you

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  2. 2. mrsruthless49 10:09 pm 09/28/2012

    sorry, Kate, wrong link for book! oops! here is link for Prehistoric Times: http://store.blurb.com/ebooks/297045-prehistoric-times thanx

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  3. 3. stevedaffern 4:24 pm 10/1/2012

    That is lovely Kate. I expect that, like me, you have read William Golding’s ‘The Inheritors’ and, like me, cried at that too. If you haven’t, then I highly recommend it, as an elegiac, touching, heart-rending, fictional account of the last Neanderthals as they struggle to survive. One of my favourite books.

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  4. 4. Rafa 5:12 pm 10/1/2012

    It’s strange that a sapiens cries because of what very surely was an extinction because our species ate those guys. When you become romantic all science is lost…

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  5. 5. WilliamGrogan 5:15 am 10/2/2012

    I doubt they went extinct because we ate them. Even if our ancestors help cause their demise we humans today can mourn the loss of the only other really intelligent creature on Earth.

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  6. 6. Grumpyoleman 10:10 am 10/3/2012

    I doubt if that particular group of Neanderthals knew that they were the last of their species or could even understand what extinction meant. They were just another group slogging through life and trying to make a living in a hostile, unforgiving world. Which is not much different than the lives of many humans in today’s world.

    If their genes survive among the current human specie, then they survive, and I see no reason to get all weepy about it.

    Link to this
  7. 7. yavuzhan 7:38 am 10/5/2012

    a very beautiful image.
    site aç

    Link to this

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