Context: Your spaceship encountered a Grade III Anomaly (now you really wish you'd have read the darn safety manual to figure out what that would be -- too late now). Structural integrity of the singularity containment apparently was compromised, and an all hands abandon ship signal was transmitted by the pilot AI.

Situation: You are now in a place that resembles Ice-Age southern Europe so well, you have a hard time avoiding the conclusion that you time-traveled. Reinforcing this belief is the band of 20 or so Neanderthals currently approaching you.

Moreover, you managed to deactivate and drop your multiband rescue beacon during the late stage night-time parachute descent. Your PA, Vortana, helpfully informed you that given the prevailing wind patterns you experienced, the descent vector after the pod separation event, your flailing arms and general disorientation, the beacon is 95% likely to be in a roughly triangular 100 sq. km. area to the West, and with a smaller 80% probability in a 10 sq. km. sub-area.

You would like to enlist the help of the Neanderthals in:

  • Not being killed and eaten (or worse, having to kill them yourself - how horrid)
  • Finding food and water (your supplies contain food, but you have no illusions about the quality of spaceliner emergency food rations)
  • Finding and re-activating the beacon. To unaided human-like vision, this would appear to be a silver spherical device about the size of a grapefruit. It is virtually indestructible, so the fall would not have even scratched it.

Problem: You recall from your half-remembered education a few centuries back (and Vortana helpfully confirms) that Neanderthals do not speak Common. In fact, it's not clear that they speak at all. How do you communicate?

Supplies: Zero-point powered Gamma-ray gun, a backpack with 20kg of dehydrated supplies, water purifying canister (1), Ssiws Army Knife° (1), rope (40 meters), self-setting tent (1), blanket (1), self-cleaning clothes (2 pairs), Vortana Digital Personal Assistant (1), flotation device (1), rescue beacon (lost), beach towel (1).

° A Ssiws Army Omnitool (aka Knife) can easily dispatch cave bears and moderately large dinosaurs, carve through granite, print circuitboards onto sand. But most people use it for opening beer bottles.

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    $\begingroup$ Homo paradox, where Neanderthals becoming too good at developing tool and drive human to extinction then there won't be any you to go back in time just be get stranded.😕 $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Aug 12, 2015 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ Not necessarily. Neanderthals had trouble breeding, and eventually died out due to several factors, including the fact that there were so many humans hunting all of their prey. Neanderthals were also breeding with humans, so they weren't on the worst of terms. $\endgroup$
    – Thatguypat
    Aug 12, 2015 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly. The whole "modern humans out-evolved Neanderthals and exterminated them" thing may make for good philosophical narration in X-Men movies, but it's closer to the truth to say that we assimilated them. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2015 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ I'm glad nobody questioned how I knew how ice-age Italy looked like. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2015 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa Simple. It looks like a boot, and it's very cold. $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2015 at 7:22

6 Answers 6


Early settlers in North America came across Natives which did not speak their language, similar to what our hero is going through right now. To communicate, they used to use their faces, body language and hand gestures to signify certain actions.

Wait for a large group (though not too large) to come by. A lone person or a small group may be frightened and kill you (which I assume is not what you want). Too large of a group and if things go bad, they'll really go bad. Act non-threatening when meeting with them (slow movements, few hand gestures, don't pull out your Gamma-ray gun, and so on).

Take out the water canister and start drinking it, making sipping sounds, an "ahhh" at the end, and point over to one of the Neanderthals and point to your canister. Slowly walk over and hand the canister over. Do the same with some food. If spaceliner food is as bad as you say it is, I recommend killing an animal, cooking it, and handing that instead over to the Neanderthals.

If they don't kill you or run away you can start to earn their trust. Go on hunting trips with them and use your gun to instantly kill the prey. Help them with construction of things such as tents as their tents don't build themselves like yours. So on and so forth.

Finally, you can start looking for the object. Body language is key here. Start looking around as if you're trying to find something. They may be curious and look puzzled at you. Crumple up some foil from a used dehydrated supply into the shape of the beacon, and point to it and the vast wilderness. Start to wander off and see if they follow. If they do, try to split them up by pointing at someone and point off to a direction.

If all goes according to plan, you never spoke a word, but you got the general idea across that you're looking for a silver object in the world. If they find it or not is out of your hands, but at least you tried.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "Go on hunting trips with them and use your gun to instantly kill the prey. Help them with construction of things such as tents as their tents don't build themselves like yours. So on and so forth."- Can't help but think, what if you've advanced their technological capability to the point where they end up hunting humans/becoming the dominant species due to their sudden amazing technological advances... $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2015 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ Can we be reasonably confident that Neanderthals (a different species, for the most part) can understand and relate to our body language? $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2015 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ @ScottMcGready I'm assuming the traveller wants to leave. When he does, he'll take his weapon back with him and not leave it behind. $\endgroup$
    – Thatguypat
    Aug 14, 2015 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Serban Tanasa We can be more confident than you think. Non-human primates not only understand body language, but use it in every day communication. While some of your human body language may be strange to them, things like pointing and walking away can be recognized by pretty much any primate. Heck, we're even able to teach primates sign language via body language. $\endgroup$
    – Thatguypat
    Aug 14, 2015 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Thatguypat maybe so but the fact remains, it's been shown to them. It could kick off a whole field of them chasing down this elusive weapon, in turn creating other weapons and tools way ahead of their time $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2015 at 12:29

Convince them you are a divine being

I can't be the only one whose first thought was "Fleece these ...neanderthals and make them worship you"

Use your technology and education to become the leader. Spoken communication would develop in time.

Prior to that developing, utilize gestures and expression as @Thatguypat mentioned as well as pictures. After all a picture speaks a thousand words.

Odds are if they are near you they also saw you crash. But it wouldn't be crash to them, so draw a picture of the sky and stars and yourself coming to earth. Show them your magic (tech) and get them to follow you. Keep them happy by helping feed them with your rifle.

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    $\begingroup$ Just don't ask your Vortana Persona Digital Assistant for help with this scheme, or it will suddenly manifest a very nervous-sounding British accent and protest that "It's against my programming to impersonate a deity!" $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2015 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ imdb.com/title/tt0073341/combined $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2015 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ Mmmm tasty rifle $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2015 at 0:01

Relax, if they aren't talking yet, it's probably just because they are a bit spooked and a bit defensive. As Vortana is so helpfully info-dumping on you right now, "They are quite closely related to H. sapiens such as yourself."

I think she mentioned something about how they are likely looking for a new home, after all they usually don't live in such large communities. As they get a bit closer you'll know for sure, you wouldn't expect a hunting or war party to have the women and children anyway.

There she goes again with that word, Mesolithic. That means middle stone age, i.e. no agriculture or advanced tools. Mousterian to be specific.

Come to think of it, how did you know they were Neanderthal? From a distance they do look a bit short, but that might be expected for undernourished people living in a glacial period. And that heavy clothing makes it difficult to tell how stout they are. Must have been Vortana.

Unfortunately, now you're being filled in on how not much is known about their cultural. You aren't sure if they will be prone to follow a shaman or kill one. Better keep that under wraps for now.

As they are getting closer you can clearly see children with them, but as Vortana is now pointing out they age faster than sapiens, so it's likely they are a bit younger than you might expect. Being as they are approaching in such a manner they probably aren't looking for a fight, and if you can offer them something they might let you come with them. Vortana is filling you in now about how later Neanderthals tended to be pretty inbred, so you think they are probably in need of fresh blood in their clan.

You ask Vortana if she still has that old language immersion software for children. When she skeptically replies "yes?", you know you've got a plan.

  • $\begingroup$ I love that this answer continued in the same style, but I think it's sort of a deus ex machina just to be able to learn the language when Vortana even mentioned that not much is known about their culture. $\endgroup$
    – Thatguypat
    Aug 12, 2015 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Thatguypat I think the implication is teaching them YOUR language, not the other way around. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2015 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Mike Kellogg You're right. I misread 'old language' and thought it meant their language. $\endgroup$
    – Thatguypat
    Aug 12, 2015 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeKellogg - Your userid is remarkably similar to one connected with another popular website. Welcome. If you are he then may the interaction be profitable to all. :-) If you are not he, then I offer the same greeting and the same good wishes. $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2015 at 0:11

Don't fall asleep. They may kill you and steal the artefacts believing they can use them without your help.

Beware of customs. If you are a man, you may have to return to their camp and marry the chief's daughter - and prove your ... erm ... abilities. If you are a woman you may find a whole hunting party of Neanderthals somewhat daunting, especially if they have been away from their women-folk for some time. Keep that ray-gun handy.

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    $\begingroup$ When Russian traveler Nicholas Mikluho-Maclay landed on New Guinea shore and found himself surrounded by the natives armed with spears, he forced himself to untie his shoelaces, take off his shoes and go to sleep, using the shoes as a pillow. This lack of fear proved the natives he was some kind of a deity. Nothing of his belongings was ever touched by them. $\endgroup$
    – Quassnoi
    Aug 13, 2015 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Quassnoi: unfortunately we don't have good data on how many people tried that and got perforated with a spear, so it's hard to say what odds it gives you. $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2015 at 19:49

They would probably be very suspicious that you are a dangerous predator. They have their society, and you are not a member. You would probably not be permitted within proximity to their camp until you gain their trust.

The question is; can you gain their trust by persistently approaching their hunting parties and attempting to interact with them? Or would they kill you on sight, like territorial gorillas? I suspect that this may depend upon the culture of the individual group. The culture of the group may depend upon their past experiences. If they have been in violent conflicts with other humanoids, or if they have been made to feel betrayed, then they may have a kill on sight policy.

Understand, that even today, there exists in the Amazon uncharted tribes of humans. Some percentage of these tribes have a kill on site policy, and will literally murder anyone or anything that crosses their path. I can only assume that sub-humans would be about the same as humans in that respect.

welcome to humanity.


Silverberg, expanding on Asimov, they made the Neanderthals fully intelligent in language ability, by having the lack of representational art and decoration in general be a cultural belief, not an inability.

You could do something like that and have your meeting be as between people as described in other answers.

But if they are more ape-like, not giving attention to your communication efforts, and not able to reason out novel ideas, you'll have to rely on innate primate body language. Think about meeting a troop of gorillas and trying to communicate.

Another idea, if they had been having continuing contact with modern humans. In some areas, Neanderthals immitated tool making techniques from their modern neighbors. Consider a culture of Neanderthals have had a competitive advantage for a thousand years of watching the newcomers, combining the learned toolmaking and housekeeping tech that they could not invent themselves, with their own better adaptation to the winter climate and superior strength. That group might be ready and willing to cooperate with the stranger, as they do with seasonal encounters with the Cro Magnon.

Perhaps they even put up visitors, offering a warm cave and comforts of a perminant base in exchange for some "tinkering", fixing delecate items, sewing, and such with their better fine motor skills and problemsolving.


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