I decided that I wanted to walk through a very different setting for my next Pandemic Shadow photos.
So, I went to St Francis Wood. It’s a turn of the century neighborhood in San Francisco. It was built as a wealthy, exclusive and restricted neighborhood and wasn’t integrated at all until the 60’s. But the large houses on big lots (for San Francisco) would give me a very different setting for the shadows.
Interestingly, that vibe is still very much there. While I got to do some work I’m really happy about, I was uncomfortable the whole time.
These are the first photos I’ve taken with my new iPhone 12 mini.
The shadows were amazing. The open space that the wealthy homes have, was artistically very useful. Shot some very different pandemic shadow photos. Just what I hoped for. One of the images is very much about the big lots, but the other two turned out to be about my current obsession with textures.
This real but surreal vivid lawn with dark shadows couldn’t have been shot in many neighborhoods in San Francisco. The mix of deep shadows and very vivid green felt like an unreal reality.
This is, for now, the last of my walking through St Francis Wood photos. The way the shadows almost literally weave through the side walk and the red tiles was both delicate and exquisite.
I’m fascinated by the surprising directions the Pandemic Shadows take. They have really changed the way I see the world.
Paleolithic archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes has a terrific longform essay, Sheanderthal, in Aeon. It will come as no surprise to any of us that Neanderthal women, like women and females in every species, have been undervalued and underexamined.
identifying X-chromosome frequency is one thing; what was the life of half the Neanderthal world that she represents – women – really like? … Most often discussed indirectly via theories of fertility as a potential reason for their disappearance by 40,000 years ago, Neanderthal women have been ‘protagonists’ only a few times in recent research.
Sykes is out to correct that oversight, and to use all of the physical and technical tools at the command of the contemporary archaeologist. She starts with a history of the first Neanderthal skull, eventually identified as that of a woman, and goes on to explain why it’s difficult to identify sex from bones alone (so of course most bones and fragments have been assumed male). DNA testing has changed that picture. And Sykes, laudably, doesn’t assume that Neanderthal gender matched contemporary notions of Homo sapiens gender:
Those [individuals] identified through DNA include the Altai woman who lived in western Siberia around 90,000 years ago, another slightly later in time but relatively close by at Chagyrskaya cave, and the Vindija woman who died in what’s now Croatia much closer to the final few millennia of the Neanderthals.
Even where we’re lucky enough to have DNA samples, assumptions must still be made. Since prehistory lacks written texts, we can’t hear testimony on how Neanderthals categorised themselves. Therefore, archaeologists must draw on biological and anthropological understanding of sex and gender. While it’s highly likely that the majority of Neanderthals conformed genetically and visually to today’s sexual classification of male and female, in reality these aren’t neatly boxed because bodies are messy. For example, based on living people, around one in 2,000 Neanderthals might have been intersex.
She goes on to speculate about Neanderthal women’s physical appearance and social behavior, never for a moment letting us forget that this is speculation and guesswork, not confident knowledge:
Let’s begin at the start. Hold two crumple-faced newborn girls, one human, one Neanderthal, and you’d have to look closely to see differences. Both equally vulnerable, fitting the smallest-size onesies, their skin velvety-soft. The Neanderthal baby doesn’t yet have heavy brows and, lit by a hearth’s dull glow, her eyes are probably as slate-dark and limpid as any human newborn’s. But cradle her downy head, and it will feel slightly longer, with a bony nobble discernible above her neck….
As a fellow primate, she needs constant care and affection for proper development. Neanderthal infant brains appear to have started out around the same size though differently shaped, and followed a similar growth pattern to our own. She will hit roughly the same magical milestones as a human infant: looking intently at faces within the first month, probably smiling in some form by six weeks.
As she tries to imagine childhood and young adulthood, her speculations venture into primatology and anthropology: were Neanderthals like bonobos, chimpanzees, or later hunter-gatherers? How can we think about whether or not Neanderthal women were hunters, and how else did they spend their time?
One of the most convincing reasons to believe that Neanderthal women did experience life differently is the testimony of their own bodies. Research on limb bones suggests that, while their thighs were as strong relatively as men’s, their lower legs appear less intensively used. Sample sizes are small, however the impression is of different habits in moving around, with men perhaps scaling more rough terrain. Arms tell a similar story, with women’s lower arms getting more of a workout than their biceps. On top of this, while Neanderthal men apparently used their right and left arms differently (comparable to the asymmetry in professional tennis players), women’s arms were more symmetrically developed. Carrying heavy loads in both hands could cause this, just as we lug loaded travel or shopping bags. But pushing something up and down – or backwards and forwards – with both arms would also fit, which is particularly intriguing because one of the things we know that Neanderthals were doing an awful lot of is hide-working.
She walks us through what information we have to spark imagination about sexual encounters, about birth, about aging and grandparents, and finally about the end of the species.
In the decade since, recognised periods of contact now number at least four and perhaps seven or more, going back beyond 200,000 years ago. Most intriguingly, something of the dynamics is visible. In some earlier instances, Neanderthal women had the children of H sapiens men, but the later interbreeding after 60,000 years ago tells a different story. Nobody today has mitochondrial DNA like that in Neanderthals and, since it’s passed only maternally, this implies that interbreeding was more often between their men and our women.
It’s in these last hybrid babies that the female heritage of Neanderthals lives on. The DNA legacies of the mixed babies’ relations – half-sisters, half-aunts, half-grandmothers, and beyond – persisted through thousands of generations. Their billions of descendants are still here, walking Earth today.
The combination of superb science, careful sorting of fact from guesswork, and excellent writing is rare indeed. Read the whole article; you’ll spend some satisfying time thinking about the lives and possibilities of Neanderthal women.