THERE is a new exhibit starting in New York at the American Museum of Natural History concerning the Upper Paleolithic Age. Don't be misled by the big word. To the average paleontologist this is modern history, like World War I. The people of upper paleolithic times, which were more or less between 15,000 and 35,000 years ago, are essentially no different from the Europeans of today.
This is the time when Cro-Magnon man, or Homo sapiens, came upon the scene. That's us.
This modern-looking, Cro-Magnon man replaced the Neanderthals who ruled the European continent for some 60,000 years, give or take a year. When the handsome, inventive, enterprising Cro-Magnons replaced the Neanderthals, it zipped our civilization along at an accelerated rate.
So, naturally, the Cro-Magnons are considered the good guys and the Neanderthals the bad guys in the paleolithic scenario.
Well, everyone has heard of the bad-guy Neanderthals. They were physical giants and could lift about 1,000 pounds of woolly mammoth if they had to, but they were all hair and probably had bad breath.
They were also ugly specimens with awful sloping foreheads, heavy brows, protruding teeth, and massive jaws. In short, they had the same profile as an anvil.
As far as looks were concerned, one could say they came out a poor second to the prehistoric wart hog.
Neanderthals started about 100,000 years ago. They were the first toolmakers, and they did walk upright on their hind legs, but that's about as far as they got.
When the Cro-Magnons came along, they weren't as massive but they had the smarts. They could do everything better. Scientists believe that when the Cro-Magnons took over the scene, the Neanderthals entirely disappeared from the earth.
Maybe they didn't entirely disappear. It seems to me that I keep running into a few of them every so often in a Wal-Mart department store. And I'm sure there are a number of them on TV videos.
If they appear again today in the world of complete nondiscrimination, they won't disappear; they will be nurtured. If a hairy tribe of them loped into the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton they would not only be tolerated, but with modern concepts of ``neutral vision'' which makes everything of equal value, they might even come to be in charge again.
It's an odd paradox. Intelligent discrimination 15,000 years ago accelerated achievement into our modern high level of civilization.
May we always have the practical sense to live up to our name.