Neanderthals in Croatia

When in 1899 Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger, a Croatian paleontologist, found remains of Neanderthals in Croatia, the so-called Homo sapiens neanderthalensis was already known for decades. What made Kramberger's discovery unique was the richness of the site. He did not find a bone or a single skull, but literary hundreds of fossils. You can admire a Croatian Neanderthal skull in the Natural History Museum in London.
Scientists of the Max Planck Institute in Germany are using these bones to unveil the Neanderthal genome, so they can compare it to human DNA. It is believed that the last Neaderthal became extinct around 30.000 years ago. The common ancestor of Neanderthals and humans lived some 660.000 years ago. The Neaderthals found in Croatia are sometimes referred to as the Krapina man, called after the small town of Krapina.
Today's men and woman of Krapina take great pride in the Neanderthal site close to their town. Search for "Krapina" in Google, and you'll see that the first hit is "The world's largest neaderthal finding site - Krapina - Cradle of the mainkind". The spelling mistake is theirs. Apart from that, it is contestable that Neanderthal belongs to mankind.
When I visited Krapina last autumn, the local Museum of Evolution was a must, I thought. Who would not want to peep into the cradle of mankind? I was not least discouraged by the fact that I had to ask two beer drinkers who sat on a bench where the entrance to the museum was, for it was far from obvious that the museum was open. It was open, but it could equally have remained closed. The exhibits take you back to the time that countries like Czechoslovakia were still among us and typewriters the latest means of producing (very little) written text.
The Path of Evolution, just outside of the museum, offered more to the eye but equally little to the mind. You get to see some bronze figures with the inscription "Neanderthal family". The addition "reconstruction" is a useful reminder of the fact that you are not looking at mummies, but at the product of a sculptor's fantasy.
The other attraction in Krapina is the house and museum of Ljudevit Gaj, the leader of Croatia's national awakening in the nineteenth century and great modernizer of Croatian language. It was closed, much to my disappointment. I can't say I was surprised, however.
What did surprise me was that I could enter the Church of the Madonna of Jerusalem, a real gem. This church is one of the finest baroque buildings in Croatia, but largely ignored in travel guides. In a later post I hope to do it justice.

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