The spoor of archaic hominins in Beowulf
|Genre||Non Fiction / Education
|Submitted:||Thursday, 8 January 2009
|Read by:||598 different readers
Summary: The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf is an icon of English identity. In 1936, Professor J R R Tolkien advocated a metaphorical view of the poem and criticised scholars for taking it too literally. Since then the monsters of Beowulf are assumed to be supernatural, like those in Tolkien's own fantasy prose.
I have taken an opposing view, a hermeneutic, symptomatic approach rather than a poetic interpretation of the text. I maintain that details therein provide evidence for a folk-memory hypothesis: that Beowulf, like the Icelandic Sagas and the Bible, contain memories of real events, although these memories are distorted. Clearly, Anglo-Saxons were in a different reality to our own. And so was Tolkien.
Grendel monsters described in Beowulf do conform with the known anatomy, habits and habitat of an archaic hominin species that were in Europe at the time of manís initial occupation: the muscular, cold-adapted and carnivorous Neanderthals. A more parsimonious explanation than the supernatural, is that archaic hominins were the monsters of Beowulf. Archaic fossil remains of Neanderthals and other hominins are also a likely source of our mythology of Giants: just as the pathology of pituitary insufficiency, Leprechaunism, Williamsí syndrome, and Homo floresiensis, enable myths of dwarfs, elves, fairies and wildmen.
A parsimonious, hermeneutic interpretation of Beowulf is that it constitutes historical evidence of memories that archaic hominins survived for an unknown time, in an isolated northern European landscape.
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