Book Review: Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art – Rebecca Wragg Sykes

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing – Bloomsbury Sigma
Format: MOBI
Release Date: 19th August, 2021
Genre: Non-Fiction – Science

Rating: 4/5 Stars

There is a pop culture influenced view of Neanderthal’s as little more than brutish, violent cavepeople who grunted at one another while hunting for their food. But over the years, those studying our ancestors have discovered more and more about these mysterious people, and in Kindred, Rebecca Wragg Sykes – contemporary British Palaeolithic archaeologist – gives us comprehensive, detailed information about Neanderthals, presenting a view that would be new to most of the general public.

Did I understand everything discussed in this book?

No.

Did that detract from my enjoyment and interest?

Weirdly, no.

Sykes makes the Neanderthals and everything we know about them as accessible as possible, but like many science based books, there are going to be aspects that either go over your head if you’re not in that field, or that perhaps you simply aren’t majorly interested in. For the most part, even if I didn’t completely understand something (and there is Google available for that!) I could still follow along and get a solid idea of what Sykes is talking about.

The book is split into different sections, and depending on where your own curiosity takes you, there might be sections that are a bit more dry than others. Personally, I was kind of glad to come out of the section regarding the items and tools found with Neanderthals, though it was still good information to have and tied into other areas. The parts I was most fascinated by were more to do with how they lived, in regards to life, death and travel. There’s also an interesting mini-discussion regarding Neanderthal remains, where countries have requested remains be returned to them, but Sykes makes the point that Neanderthals lived in a borderless world (as far as we understand borders and countries anyway), and the places where they died wouldn’t necessarily be where they lived.

Interestingly, Sykes also draws comparisons with primate species, especially bonobos, to show how Neanderthals might have lived with less violence and more compassion than previously assumed. I also really enjoyed the exploration of what childhood might have meant to Neanderthals – the rate that they aged, how they may have carried children too young to walk, whether or not children would have had toys, and how much those ‘toys’ may have been a way for them to learn the lifestyle at a young age, with smaller versions of Neanderthal tools found that might have been a way for children to learn while playing.

There is a lot of information here and it can get fairly dense in parts, but Sykes does make it as informative and engaging as possible. I especially liked the chapter openings, written almost like novels, giving glimpses into what Neanderthal life might have been like day to day. It was also fascinating to learn about the variety of remains found, and how we can get so much information from what little we have.

It’s wonderful to see such an undertaking, and an attempt to engage the wider public on this topic. If this is an area you have any curiosity about, Kindred is, without a doubt, worth picking up.

My thanks to Bloomsbury for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley. Views remain my own.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art – Rebecca Wragg Sykes

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