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Historian traces rise of celebrity hominid fossils

‘Seven Skeletons’ digs into backstory of famous finds

By
9:00am, August 22, 2016
 The Old Man of La Chapelle

LASTING FAME  The Old Man of La Chapelle, a Neandertal skeleton discovered in the early 20th century, is among the fossils highlighted in a new book about how hominid fossils achieve worldwide fame. 

Seven Skeletons
Lydia Pyne
Viking, $28

 

After decades of research revealing their sophisticated lives, Neandertals still can’t shake their reputation as knuckle-dragging cavemen. And it’s the Old Man of La Chapelle’s fault.

The Old Man of La Chapelle was the first relatively complete Neandertal skeleton ever found. Three French abbés discovered the bones in 1908. Soon after, geologist and paleontologist Marcellin Boule analyzed the remains. His conclusion: The ancient individual was a hunched, dim-witted savage. At the time, little was known about human evolution, and Boule’s findings made headlines worldwide. The publicity helped to sear the image of the brutish Neandertal into the public’s mind — so much so that even after

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