Re: Origins: Neaderthal Burial Customs

Glenn Morton (
Fri, 20 Dec 1996 19:07:58

Bob Carling wrote:

>Another thought: my son (9.5 yrs) recently went on a field trip with his
>school (where he was delighted to observe badgers in the wild, something I
>have never done). Apparently, the experts on badgers at the field study
>centre told him that when a badger dies, its body is then dragged by the
>others to the central chamber of the 'set' where they emit several unique
>vocalisations which are only performed when one of their set dies, a sort of
>burial rite if you like. The body is then dragged to where the animal
>normally slept and it is buried in that part of the set by shovelling earth
>to seal the body in.
>Presumably none of us on this discusssion list would argue (or if they did,
>not very strongly!) that badgers are candidates for the Kingdom of heaven.
>And yet it seems thay exhibit burial behaviour. So, if Neanderthals bury
>their dead, such behaviour is not necessarily an indication of their being
>created in the image of God. I am personally not sure how to treat
>Neanderthal's theologically, but let's be careful here about what exactly
>the argument we are using is trying to prove. Burying our dead, whilst maybe
>an indication of our being created in the image of God is only that - an

Can you provide any documentation of this in a scholarly journal? The reason
I ask is that I was once told that elephants buried their dead. I could not
dispute this but when I finally found a good book on elephants, they do not
bury their dead. I am skeptical of this and would like a good reference so
that if I am wrong, I can correct what I say.

Having seen some of the ideas my kids came back with from school outings, I
have not found that source highly credable.

>I am reminded of the discussions years ago about whether language was
>'unique' to human beings and therefore a characteristic that can be used to
>distinguish us from the beasts. As Donald Mackay all those years ago warned
>us (I think in "The Clockwork Image"), it is not an allowance of the "thin
>end of the wedge" to recognize the extraordinary creativity of God that he
>created some animals with the capacity to reason, possess speech and (it
>seems) bury their dead - we are not *that* unique. I think the uniqueness of
>humans resides more in the theological realm than in the
>physical/morpholocal realm.

I would point out that humans are the only beings that derive language from
the cortical areas of our brain. Stephen Pinker wrote:

"Language is obviously as different from other animals' communication
systems as the elephant's trunk is different from other animals' notstrils.
Nonhuman communication systems are based on one of three designs: a finite
repertory of calls (one for warnings of predators, one for claims to
territory, and so on), a continuous analog signal that registers the magnitude
of some state (the livelier the dance of the bee, the richer the food source
that it is telling its hivemates about), or a series of random variations on a
theme (a birdsong repeated with a new twist each time: Charlie Parker with
feathers). As we have seen, human language has a very different design. The
discrete combinatorial system called 'grammar' makes human language infinite
(there is no limit to the number of complex words or sentences in a language),
digital (this infinity is achieved by rearranging discrete elements in
particular orders and combinations, not by varying some signal along a
continuum like the mercury in a thermometer), and compositional (each of the
infinite combinations has a different meaning predictable from the meanings of
its parts and the rules and principles arranging them).
"Even the seat of human language in the brain is special. The vocal
calls of primates are controlled not by their cerebral cortex but by
phylogenetically older neural structures in the brain stem and limbic system,
structures that are heavily involved in emotion. Human vocalizations other
than language, like sobbing, laughing, moaning, and shouting in pain, are also
controlled subcortically. Subcortical structures even control the swearing
that follows the arrival of a hammer on a thumb, that emerges as an
involuntary tic in Tourette's syndrome, and that can survive as Broca's
aphasics' only speech. Genuine language, as we saw in the preceding chapter,
is seated in the cerebral cortex, primarily the left perisylvian
region."~Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct, (New York: Harper/Perennial,
1994), p. 334

We may be more special than you think.


Foundation,Fall and Flood