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Neanderthal Public Relations: From Misconceptions To More Confusion

Neanderthal Public Relations: From Misconceptions To More Confusion

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In the mid-nineteenth century AD, researchers and explorers began finding bones in the remote caves of Europe. At first, they believed these to be no different than modern human skulls, but as the specimens began to stack up, anthropologists became interested, realizing that these remains were distinct from modern humans. Then began the tragic intellectual drama of preconception, misconception, reconceiving, and back to misconception of the human species we know today as Neanderthals.

A quick internet search of Neanderthal images yields not only a good laugh, but also the radical shift in perceived Neanderthal appearance, with their initial images resembling a Darwinian ape-man/ Planet of the Apes extra, and the modern depictions a small, only slightly apish human with a friendly disposition. Why the makeover? Anthropological revelations are only part of the story, the real reason is the Neanderthal public relations campaign.

The beginnings of modern public relations are credited to Edward Bernays, a nephew of pioneer Sigmund Freud. Like early Neanderthal public relations, modern PR changed people’s perceptions in ways that usually benefited the elites. (Bain News Service / Public domain)

Neanderthal Public Relations Based On The Definition of PR

Before exploring Neanderthal public relations, it’s worthwhile to take a quick look at what public relations actually is. Edward Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, born in 1891, and just as he was reaching adulthood, his uncle’s theories on human behavior and the industrial revolution were metastasizing into insatiable juggernauts of commercial enterprise.

Bernays capitalized on his uncle’s work, creating a monetized commodity that each and every rich, powerful person, politician, and corporation just had to have, like ravenous, spoiled children demanding the hottest new toy on the market. The dark art of public relations was/is his Frankenstein invention, as he is best known today as “the father of public relations,” or “the father of spin.” His most notable works are the books  Propaganda and Crystalizing Public Opinion.

An early public relations campaign got women to smoke because it also appeared to keep them thinner! "Girl in Red" advertisement (1927) for Lucky Strike; shot by Nickolas Muray, a photographer enlisted by Bernays to help popularize feminine thinness and cigarette smoking. (Nickolas Muray / Public domain)

Bernays’ Golem: Modern PR Is A Freudian Trick For Power

In Jewish folklore, a golem is a soulless mockup of a giant human that is then imbued with artificial lifeforce (by a rabbi), via elaborate occult rituals. The anthropomorphic goon is then utilized to do the dirty work of the rabbi: like heavy lifting, dreary laborious tasks, or even violence. But because the blunt object has no soul, it often turns on the rabbi, going haywire, wreaking havoc on any and everyone.

The public relations golem created by Bernays enabled wealthy/influential individuals, government agencies, and companies to effectively manipulate the public to whatever end they desired. Bernays mastered this by perverting his uncle’s brilliance into systematic mass manipulation strategies. Bernays taught his clients that collectively, common people do not base their behavior on reason, but rather, subconscious emotional impulse drives, and if those are effectively tapped into, their behavior (even their minds) can be controlled.

Naturally, the CIA was interested in this and recruited Bernays to overthrow the democratically elected Guatemalan government, and he was also hired by the equally slimy tobacco companies who tricked millions of women into becoming smokers with a feminist ad campaign. Long after his death, Bernays’s golem is still running wild, empowering institutions in their never-ending quests to mislead the public, as is the case with the public perception regarding Neanderthals.

As evolution became widely accepted in the 1870s, caricatures of Charles Darwin with the body of an ape or monkey symbolized evolution. (Public domain)

Neanderthal Public Relations Further Warped By Darwinism

The name Neanderthal was coined after the discovery of “Neanderthal One” in Germany’s Neander Valley, which is the first of many misnomers since two Neanderthal skulls had already been discovered. As was mentioned, at this time (mid-nineteenth century) Darwinism was the gospel of science, academia, and political ideology. Religious paradigms and altruistic codes of behavior (which were never really adhered to anyways) were being discarded in favor of concepts like manifest destiny.

So, when Neanderthal One was discovered the authorities immediately inserted it into the prevailing narrative, proclaiming they had unearthed validation of ape to human evolution. As such, the original depiction of Neanderthals was that they were stupid, primitive, brutish ape-men who had been thankfully driven into extinction as the result of their evolutionary inferiority to Homo sapiens.

This completely incorrect concept is further reflected in the term Homo sapiens itself, which means wise man. Leading institutions took hard positions on this, pouncing on it for its scientific and PR value, instantly flooding the public consciousness with textbooks and images of the misconceived Neanderthals, who they claimed were knuckle walkers: who could not speak, control fire, or make anything but the most crude tools (often an unaltered bone, stick, or rock).

Savages and Barbarians Are Also PR Words of Superiority

As the decades rolled on industry flourished, devouring forests, choking skies, and poisoning waters while the previously mentioned institutions (political, academic, and scientific) grew into behemoths spinning their PR narratives for the world. Many crimes against humanity were hatched along the way, like the genocide of the Native Americansduring westward expansion of the US.

Founders of institutions like the Smithsonian openly stated that the mass murder and disenfranchisement of Native Americans was justifiable because they were several levels down the evolutionary ladder, and therefore, it was a simple matter of racial evolution unfolding. For example, the first director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethnology and founding member of the National Geographic Society, General John Wesley Powell, in his work  Exploration of the Canyons of the Colorado wrote “these Indians are more nearly in their primate condition than any others on the continent with whom I am acquainted.” 

But a careful reading of Powell’s work reveals that this was agenda serving (meaning he knew it was not accurate) because he also stated that the Native Americans intense understanding of the landscape was essential to his expedition, adding that their ability to remember topographical features “put his to shame.” He skewed his narrative repeatedly and deliberately to conceal the fact that the Native Americans were kind and knowledgeable, but most of all, he downplayed the vast quantity of ancient ruins and archaeological sites he came across.

In his 1870 report/travel book  New Tracks in North America, British editor William Bell wrote in the forward about the necessity for the exploration of North America by Europeans, stating that this land contains “cradles for nations which are destined to spring from our own hardy and prolific stock.”

Illustration of a Neanderthal man holding a Neanderthal's skull. He’s probably thinking that his species was totally misunderstood by his Homo sapiens cousins and that it would have been better for the Neanderthals to run their own PR campaigns to set the record straight. (Roni / Adobe Stock)

The First Stage of Grief: Shock and Denial

After a century and a half, around the turn of the 2000 switch, the false narrative finally began to crumble under the undeniable pressure of scientific advancement. Hundreds of Neanderthal specimens had now been discovered, along with tools, clothing, musical instruments, cave/rock art, ornate burials, and most of all, anatomical and genetic analyses of their remains had been conducted.

Scientists know now that Neanderthals actually had larger brains than Homo sapiens, and not only were they not knuckle walkers, they were around six times stronger and more athletic than modern humans. They practiced resource management, thought symbolically, had sophisticated language, had rituals, interbred with Homo sapiens, and were even seafarers.

There is even evidence to suggest the controversial theory that Neanderthals were apex predators, over Homo sapiens, and hunted modern humans along with incredibly dangerous Pleistocene big game like wooly mammoths, wooly rhinos, and cave bears.

They had extremely muscular frames, huge eyes (possibly indicating night vision/eye shine), enormous heads/faces, were most likely quite hairy, and had very big noses. But despite all of this, the common misconceptions persist. The official narrative has now undergone a public relations makeover, which ironically, is just as misleading as the original.

The Neanderthal public relations machine in the 21st century has swung to depictions of friendly, little, Homo sapiens-like Neanderthals. It’s like Disney had been called in for a “cute-ification” makeover. (Fractal Pictures / Adobe Stock)

The Latest In Neanderthal Public Relations Is Disney-like

Similar to the spin applied to Cro Magnons (another can of worms entirely), leading evolutionary scientists and institutions, desperate to preserve some semblance of the narrative have called on Bernays’s golem once more to perpetuate a new PR campaign, that of the friendly, little, Homo sapiens-like, Neanderthal.

Now that it’s common knowledge that Europeans carry a percentage of Neanderthal DNA, the quest to make Neanderthals (and Cro Magnons and Denisovans) like regular, primitive Homo sapiens is well underway and working like a charm.

Internet searches and visits to natural history museums lands the researcher in front of these little, cave people who look just like Homo sapiens and even have cute little grins and sweet looking little children. They have gone from savage ape-like creatures to antiquated elders who were just like modern humans, just with less technology and understanding. There are even Pixar films specifically designed to perpetuate this idea, in the plot of which the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens are only slightly different, meet, make friends, and coexist peacefully.

Neanderthal Reality is Truly Stranger than Fictional PR

For thousands of years before the industrial revolution, ancient cultures universally held that modern humans were preceded by ancient races of giants, dwarves, trolls, etc. They were often said to have been descended from the deities, possessed beyond human capabilities, had unique physical traits, lived in caves or underground, were cannibalistic, hostile towards Homo sapiens, and were the remnants of lawless species, cursed by their ancestral gods for disobedience.

The biblical Nephilim, the Norse Jotunn, the Gaelic Fomorians, the Greek giants, the Hindu Varnas, are just a few of the most well-known examples. In some cases, like that of the Basque (allegedly) mythological race known as the Jentilak, direct connections can be made. The exact regions said by Basque tradition to be the territory of these ancient, giant predecessors, has in fact yielded some of the highest concentrations of Neanderthal bones on the planet.

And not only that, but the entire region is also filled to the brim with dolmens, mysterious, archaic stone structures still not understood. Even today, archaeologists don’t know who built these structures, or when, how, and for what purpose. It’s almost as if, they were built by an entirely different species of humans in the distant past. 


Modern humans appear in the archaeological record around two-hundred-thousand years ago, this we know with relative certainty. Recorded history as we know it really only goes back about six-to-eight thousand years ago. This means that roughly ninety-seven percent of human history is a mystery, with only archaeological and anthropological clues to guide mankind.

Any decent homicide investigator worth their salt would emphasize that when following clues, the most important thing is to not prematurely convince oneself of a particular outcome, in other words, to be objective and avoid the pitfall of confirmation bias.

If an investigator is biased or inclined towards a preferred outcome, the biases will corrupt interpretation of the evidence. And any clues pointing away from the biased idea will be ignored or downplayed, and anything else will be used to support what the investigator wishes to be accurate. 

And this on top of the very real probability that some investigators deliberately fudge or suppress evidence for their own selfish purposes. So, with ninety-seven percent of human history a mystery, beware of who interprets these clues and what their possible motives and or biases may be. 

Top image: Neanderthal public relations exhibit one. Standing side by side they look the same but different. And the Homo sapiens version of the portrayal looks so fit, sexy and more intelligent by far. The Neanderthal? Not so much!      Source: nicolasprimola / Adobe Stock

By Mark A. Carpenter


King, Barbara J. (2018).“Why Won’t The Old Caveman Stereotypes For Neanderthals Die?” Retrieved from

Lalueza-Fox, Carles; Rosas, Antonio; Rasilla, Marco de la. (2012). "Palaeogenetic research at the El Sidrón Neanderthal site". Annals of Anatomy - Anatomischer Anzeiger. 194 (1): 133–137.

Langdon, J. H. (2016). "Case Study 18. Neanderthals in the Mirror: Imagining our Relatives". The Science of Human Evolution: Getting it Right. New York: Springer Publishing.

Locker, Martin. (2018).“The Mythology of Giants in the Pyrenees.” Perennial Pyrenees. Retrieved from

Pico, Tamara. (2019). "The Darker Side of John Wesley Powell". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved from

Powell, John Wesley (1895).  Exploration of the Canyons of the Colorado. New York: Dover Publications.

Scott, Gini Graham. (2021). “How Our Thinking About ‘Neanderthal Thinking’ Has Been All Wrong.” Retrieved from

Steward, Julian H. (1939). Notes on Hillers' photographs of the Paiute and Ute Indians taken on the Powell expedition of 1873. Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Institution.

Zollikofer, C. P. E.; Ponce de Leon, M. S.; Vandermeersch, B.; Leveque, F. (2002). "Evidence for interpersonal violence in the St. Cesaire Neanderthal". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 99 (9): 6444–



This is the most accurate appearance of a Neanderthal:

Tonja's picture

Depictions of Neanderthal men and women has certainly changed since I was a child. They have went from hairy, ape-like brutes to decent looking folks with acceptable facial features and physiques!   As for cloning a Neanderthal, it has probably been done.  

Mark A. Carpenter's picture

Mark A.

My name is Mark-Andrew Carpenter and I’m an emerging author, filmmaker, and rogue cultural anthropologist based in Baltimore Maryland, U.S. I studied archaeology until I discovered that they were not practicing objective science. Before abandoning the program, I did take... Read More

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