I had been resisting temptation however, before I knew it, ‘Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art’ by Rebecca Wragg Sykes was downloaded on my Kindle and ready to go. In this time of isolation, the vividness of the writing made me feel reconnected to something greater and reminded me of the voracious reader I used to be. It also evoked strong emotions; shame as I recognised my ignorance and preconceptions about Neanderthals and awe at the sense of life the author created through an intense examination of evidence in combination with her imagination and poetic instinct.

In the same way there wasn’t a single Neanderthal type living a single Palaeolithic lifestyle, there isn’t a single human type. However I believe that there is a shared humanity, and this is something I explore in my art practice. A few years ago I created paintings while listening to music (both familiar and unfamiliar) from different cultural traditions. While I didn’t find a unifying visual thread, I concluded that the common human factor could be how we can interpret the creative world and make it our own.

At different stages of my life I have hazarded guesses at what being human is and I am still not sure. At times it feels very complex and at others startlingly clear. To my mind, there is a difference between being human and human beings. As the former more often than not, we act in ways that divide the world between them and us, again and again and again, while the latter gleams with possibilities for us to take our place amongst other living things.

An incontestable aspect of our lives is that we experience and orchestrate diverse events. These may be joyful or challenging, moments that can nourish or consume us. Sometimes we document and analyse them and at other times they leave their own imprints on our bones, skin, hair and teeth. I think of the comment that “Neanderthals and H. sapiensreflect two diverging pathways of being human, each with their oddities” (Wragg Sykes, 2020). I haven’t finished the book yet but have some idea about the end. Reading about fragile remains and what we can learn from them is extraordinary but also confronting. In all likelihood the indestructible evidence we will leave behind us a species will speak volumes about us and how we lived.

Published on 28 June 2021