Stone Age sights, sounds, smells at Croat museum

Mon Mar 1, 2010 10:05am EST
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By Zoran Radosavljevic

KRAPINA, Croatia (Reuters Life!) - Forensic science and computer simulations are just a couple of the high tech tools used to explain one branch of the evolutionary tree at a new museum in Croatia.

The Neanderthal Museum opened last week and was built on the site where scientists have found the greatest concentration in Europe of Neanderthal remains, the bones, skulls, tools and other effects of an extinct offshoot of mankind who inhabited parts of Asia and Europe until 30,000 years ago.

The museum's concept -- which sums up evolution in a 24-hour period displayed on a winding track along the museum's two floors -- highlights the late starting time of 23:52 for the first appearance of any of mankind's relations.

The museum, built with help from U.S. and British natural history museums and others, displays many of the bones and artifacts excavated here in the late 19th century.

"At that time scientists were looking for the missing link, half-man, half-animal, and the Neanderthals were portrayed as hairy, dull-looking savages who couldn't walk upright," said paleo-anthropologist Jakov Radovcic.

But the museum's painstakingly recreated life-size Neanderthal figures tell a different story.

"Today we look at the Neanderthals as humans. They had emotions, helped the weak and the sick, we have found indications of burying rituals and established that they had the speech gene just like ours," Radovcic said.

Findings throughout Europe show that the Neanderthals painted pictures, probably engaged in some sort of tribal dancing or music, and even cleaned their teeth.   Continued...

<p>Hyperrealistic face of a neanderthal male is displayed in a cave in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern Croatian town of Krapina February 25, 2010. REUTERS/Nikola Solic</p>