In my novel Nightsong, the main character, Bronwyn Bloom, is reluctant to tell people what she does for a living:
I was self-conscious when I told people I was a paleoanthropologist specializing in the Neanderthals because I could read their thoughts: She looks like a Neanderthal! But my slightly stooped posture had nothing to do with our doomed human cousins. It was a myth that Neanderthals hunched over, caused by the famous La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton of a Neanderthal man, who was later discovered to be suffering from osteoarthritis.
I was playing a bit with the Neanderthal stereotype here and also throwing in some autobiographical stuff. (I do need to work on my posture.)
Unfortunately, however, the stereotype of the brutish, hunched over, dimwitted Neanderthal took root early on and is still alive and well. The third definition in Merriam-Webster for "Neanderthal" is "a man who is stupid and rude." (If you google one of our 2016 US presidential candidates and the word "Neanderthal", you'll see what I mean.)
I came across a recent article on Vox that explained why Neanderthals get such a bad rap: Neanderthals were stereotyped for a century--all because of one French scientist.
In an interview with Brian Resnick, Lydia Pyne, a historian and anthropologist, and author of a new book Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World's Most Famous Human Fossils, explains how the description of the first discovered Neanderthal skeleton by French paleoanrhroplogist Marcellin Boule in the early 1900s has colored our view of Neanderthals ever since. As Pyne says in the interview:
It’s an inherent bias or inherent desire to want [humans] to be unique. That there's something about our species — maybe it's language, maybe it's culture, maybe it's our ability to be bipedal and to walk on two legs — that gives us this kind of evolutionary success.
It's only been a few years since we've had confirmation that many us aren't so unique and actually have Neanderthal DNA (@1% to 3%). Perhaps our view of our extinct cousins will soften as they change from the Other to one's own ancestors.
I am the author of NIGHTSONG: A Neanderthal mystery. I hope you may want to dip into my blog after you've read my novel (or even if you haven't) to learn a bit more about the Neanderthals and to hear some of the music described in the novel. I may go off topic sometimes...