Rebecca Wragg Sykes 2020. Kindred. Neanderthal life, love, death and art London: Bloomsbury Sigma, 400 pp.

I didn’t know that there were two cultures within the Neanderthals, east and west, recognisable by their stone tools. Nor did I realise that wooden spears made by Neanderthals have been found. And lots more like this through an interesting book written by someone who of course has a deep knowledge of Neanderthals.

But. Although exhaustively researched, it is a huge negative that the references are not part of the book but are in a document on the author’s web site where they have no link to the text and no annotation, thus it isn’t possible to source any supporting reference (even though the author found time for a photo of her cat). The book itself doesn’t even contain a further reading section. Which is very limiting because much of the book is given over to statements prefaced by “might have …” “could have … “it is easy to imagine that …”. Therefore, even though Sykes has succeeded in evoking Neanderthals in a convincing way, it is easy to imagine that her speculations are often wrong. An objective and concise summary of what is known about Neanderthals is much more easily absorbed at the Neanderthal Wikipedia page. Just for one example, evidence for Neanderthal burials (in the modern sense) is a little more contested than the author leads to believe. The book would also have been greatly improved by an experienced editor; in particular the clumsy and arbitrary choice of which terms are footnoted is a minor irritation throughout (the few footnotes that are necessary should simply have been part of the text).

Even so, mostly an enjoyable and informative read, and the author is at least upfront that being evocative was her first goal, although it was hardly necessary, Neanderthals did that themselves:

Neanderthal construction in Bruniquel Cave 176,500 years ago. Photo Luc-Henri Fage. CC BY-SA 4.0.