I was fascinated by the news last week that Neanderthals had mated with modern humans. I think my first response was probably the typical reaction that most people had: Hubba hubba!
Then I thought that Neanderthals, presumed to have gone extinct about 30,000 years ago, had never really died out--at least not genetically. If you're descended from ancestors who lived in pre-historic Europe or Asia, chances are that up to 4% of your genetic makeup is Neanderthal in origin. When I thought back to the first time I met my wife--how I clubbed her over the head and dragged her home by her hair--I perceived the essential truth of this.
Being a book flack, musing about the fate of the Neanderthal ultimately led me to a novel: William Golding's The Inheritors, published in 1955. (This was his second novel, the followup to his classic Lord of the Flies.) The Inheritors is about the last surviving group of Neanderthals and what happens when they encounter Homo sapiens. As you might imagine, it doesn't go real well for the Neanderthals.
But it seems that Golding didn't get it quite right. Turns out before modern humans drove Neanderthals to extinction, we mated with them. In retrospect, this shouldn't be surprising. After all, it's so easy even a caveman could do it.
I was also delighted to find that Golding's novel inspired a Genesis song called "A Trick of the Tail"--perfect fodder for my Classics Rock! blog. You'll find the details posted there, along with my theory that lyricist Tony Banks may have been influenced as much by the book's cover art as by its themes. See what you think.