A remarkable discovery has thrown the world of anthropology into turmoil. Until now it has been commonly accepted that the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis ), the sub-humanoid creatures that inhabited Western Europe until around 40000 years ago had become extinct, having been wiped out by the forerunners of modern day man (Homo sapiens).
There is now strong evidence to suggest that in fact the socially inept Neanderthals were not completely wiped out as previously thought, but that a small group survived and then evolved into an entirely new species, tentatively called Homo pendolinus or “Pendolino Man”.
Modern day Pendolino Man looks in every way similar to Homo sapiens which is the result of convergent evolution, whereby species under the same environmental influences tend to acquire the same physical attributes in order to be competitive within that environment. However Pendolino Man is the first recorded example of a new species being defined not by anatomical attributes but by socio-psychological ones.
To understand this we have to look at the social behaviour of their ancestors. Whereas Homo sapiens was socially advanced, forming large communal networks, the weakness of the Neanderthals lay in their inability to form social groups, which in turn lead to their failure to move from a hunter / gatherer existence to a more advanced farming culture.This ineptitude of the species has been carried through to modern times and is best exhibited on crowded commuter trains in the early morning or in the evening. Pendolino Man can be recognised by his overwhelming desire to ensure that no-one else is sitting next to him.
Pendolino man employs a number of different strategies in a psychological battle against possible occupants of the adjoining seat.
The first part of the strategy is in the initial booking of a seat on the train. Although Pendolino man finds any sort of social interaction extremely unpleasant, he will out of necessity go through the procedure of pre-booking his seat. This is now helped of course by the fact that you can do this on-line rather than having to talk to a real person. The key point here is that they will always book a window seat, with a table and power socket. Now, when they get to their allocated seat they do not sit in the one they booked, but the one next to it, by the aisle of the train. This ingenious piece of evolved behaviour has a number of effects which deter potential occupants of the empty seat.Firstly, any passenger looking for somewhere to sit will see the empty seat and then check the display above to see if it has been reserved. The display of course will be showing the window seat as reserved, and the occupied aisle seat as free, so it looks like the occupant of the aisle seat simply beat them to an available position.
The next ploy is to fill the reserved window seat and table with as much stuff as possible, so Pendolino man’s coat goes on the table and his bag goes on the seat. There is now immense psychological pressure on any foreign invader eying up the vacant seat since they now have three barriers to overcome. Are they going to sit in a reserved seat? Are they going to ask Pendolino Man to get up to let them occupy the reserved seat? And are they also going to ask Pendolino Man to move all of his stuff? I think not.
However, our cunning Neanderthal traveller has not finished there. He has even more weapons in his armoury.The most important of these is…. his laptop computer. This delivers a triple-whammy. In the first place it puts another physical barrier directly between a potential invader and the empty seat. Secondly, by appearing to be filling in some complicated spreadsheet Pendolino Man not only looks engrossed in vital calculations of national significance, but he can also completely avoid eye contact with standing passengers, who would therefore now have to both attract his attention and interrupt his work in order to access the empty seat. The coup de grace however is the laptop power lead. This he plugs in to the only socket by the window and ensures that the adapter goes on the seat on top of his coat and the cables are clearly visible on top of the table. This one behaviour alone is enough to render most Homo sapiens completely helpless. The thought of having to ask Pendolino Man to unplug his laptop is just too much of a social leap and frankly they would rather stand all the way from London to Birmingham rather than face the embarrassment of trying to shift our Neanderthal.
So there we have it, Pendolino Man is alive and well. If you want to check the facts for themselves just hop aboard the 17:23 from Euston to Wolverhampton on any Friday evening and you will be able to see their strange rituals being performed in almost every carriage whilst large numbers of the timid Homo sapiens stand in groups outside the toilets.