Imperialism’s Wayward Child: The Impact of Imperialist Thought on Neanderthal Reconstructions

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Our popular and scientific reconstructions of Neanderthals have varied greatly over the past 200 years, following trends in Enlightenment thought and race science. This paper traces Neanderthal reconstructions over time from the Enlightenment to the 1970s, connecting them to Western imperialist ideals and actions, and builds on previous literature by extending the imperialist influence past World War II and into the Vietnam War era. Through analyzing political thought, scientific reconstructions, and artistic/popular work, it is evident that a post-Enlightenment imperialist influence permeated not only the Western sociopolitical sphere, but also the scientific sphere. This research, through its focus on Neanderthal reconstructions, therefore additionally serves as a case study in how sociopolitical activity and scientific approaches reify each other in order to perpetuate a certain dominant narrative.