Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Thursday, 30 June 2005 13:58 UK

Neanderthal man 'sang and danced'

By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter

Reconstruction of Neanderthal
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Neanderthals, the close relations of modern man who died out around 30,000 years ago, had their own music and dance, an academic says.

Professor Steven Mithen of Reading University also thinks the cave- dwellers would have enjoyed the rhythms and sounds made by rap artists.

He said: "People often portray Neanderthals as dull and grumpy but they had a strong sense of music."

Their songs would have covered emotions such as embarrassment and happiness.

More than words

Prof Mithen told the BBC News website: "All people are musical in the sense that they appreciate it in some way. We all respond to it.

"Music and language developed together. The Neanderthals would have had set songs and phrases, which could not be broken down like modern language.

Professor Steven Mithen
I think they would have particularly liked rap music. It has the sort of effect Neanderthals would have enjoyed
Prof Steven Mithen

"They would have used singing, clapping and dancing to communicate their state of mind. They didn't have words.

"In a sense they were more musical than we are."

Neanderthals would have sounded rather "nasal" in their singing because of their larger noses, Prof Mithen said.

Their get-togethers in caves helped group bonding.

Prof Mithen said: "There would have been a lot of singing together. Music is still used for a bonding groups today. Just look at football crowds, church choirs or kids in the playground.

Slapping and banging

"The Neanderthals would have enjoyed it. They weren't particularly creative people but they would have passed on little songs down the generations.

"They would have danced and slapped their bodies and banged sticks."

Neanderthals, who had fully evolved vocal tracts and a wide range of emotions, shared a common ancestor - Homo heidelbergensis - with man.

Man dancing
Have we come very far in the last 50,000 years?

They would have mimicked birdsong and other natural sounds for their music.

It is thought that language, separate from music, developed with modern man's immediate African forebears.

But, according to Prof Mithen, words are not necessary, as long as the tune is good.

He said: "Had a Neanderthal attended a rock concert, they would have liked it and recognised that it was music.

"I think they would have particularly liked rap music. It has the sort of effect Neanderthals would have enjoyed.

"I can see them rapping in my mind."

Prof Mithen's book, The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language and the Mind, is published on 7 July.

The icy truth behind Neanderthals
10 Feb 05 |  Science/Nature
Neanderthals were 'adults by 15'
28 Apr 04 |  Science/Nature


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