A scholar at Oxford University recently released the results of a study showing that Neanderthal man vanished from the earth around 40,000 years ago – some 10,000 years earlier than previously calculated.

This contradicts my basic assumptions about the hulking creatures that some classify as a separate species from us and others consider to be a subspecies of Homo sapiens.

I had always considered Yogi Berra – the New York Yankees’ hall-of-fame catcher – to be a Neanderthal, and a credit to his race. Yogi certainly looked the part, though his intelligence belied the myth that Neanderthals are a little dull-witted.

Danny de Vito and Kirk Douglas could very well be Neanderthals, judging by physical appearance, and Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong Un, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin and a bunch of leaders in the Middle East certainly live up to the brutish image.

The Oxford folks figure that Neanderthals once were the dominant inhabitants of Europe. Their numbers began to drop about the time that “modern humans” began arriving.

A long cold spell and a volcanic eruption reduced their numbers until they survived only in isolated patches. Some speculate that the two species mated with each other. That’s why traces of Neanderthal DNA can be found in modern humans.

I am inclined to stick with the story told by Jean Auel about a Cro-Magnon maiden named Ayla, who was adopted by a clan of Neanderthals, who later ostracized her because she insisted on hunting like a man. After bearing a male child to one of the clan boys, she ran off and took up with one of her own kind, after which they invented every modern utensil known to man except, maybe, for Windows 8, which appears to have been designed by pure Neanderthals.

My theory is that the little mixed-species boy grew up and combined Neanderthal smarts with Cro-Magnon intellect, thus producing modern man. The cave bear eventually turned on the Neanderthal clan and all but wiped them out, but we still get a few throwbacks down to this day.

If I’m correct, we still have a few Neanderthals who are alive and active. To prove it, I made my way to that Big Box Megastore that we all know about, where it appears that most Neanderthals do their shopping.

I spied a lady about 5 feet tall, 200 pounds, with spindly legs, wearing running shorts and a sports bra spilling out from under her skimpy top. She was moving with the aid of a walking cane that looked more like a shillelagh.

“Pardon me ma’am,” I said; “would you like to go with me to the snack bar? I’d like to talk to you about your genealogical background.”

She swung her cane at me with a skill Yogi Berra would have envied, and she would have brained me had I not ducked instinctively.

“How dare you make a pass at me, you shriveled old fossil,” she said. I guessed that she hadn’t been asked in 40,000 years.

At the pharmacy and groceries entrance, I focused on a man wearing a kilt just long enough to keep me wondering whether he had on anything under it. He had knobby knees and was wearing a wife-beater undershirt.

“I’m assuming that you are a Neanderthal,” I said. “Can you tell me what has happened to your kind over the past 40,000 years?”

“Well, we had an ice age,” he said in a thick Scottish burr. “I don’t know who caused it, but everybody around here says it was Obama. My grandpappy told me that when the liberals crossed the channel from France, they instituted Obamacare and formed death squads to get rid of the Neanderthals. A few disguised themselves as Scottish highlanders and managed to survive.”

“So you survived because your ancestors faked Scottish accents and put on kilts?” I asked.

“No, Laddie. I’m a genuine Highlander. We’re still looking for Neanderthals masquerading as Scots.”

As I turned toward the parking lot, I saw a handsome character in a Brooks Brothers suit parking his BMW near the groceries and pharmacy entrance. His appearance was somewhere between Jack Palance and Arnold Schwartznegger.

“I saw you talking to that phony Neanderthal,” he told me in his cultivated German accent. “What did he tell you?”

“He said Neanderthals disguised themselves as Scottish Highlanders to escape extermination by liberal Cro-Magnons.”

“That’s not what happened,” he said. “It was the liberals who insisted on letting the Cro-Magnons cross our borders. At first there was a lot of controversy over whether to legalize marriage between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons. There was a lot of fear about amalgamation of the races. Besides that, Neanderthals did most of their communication with their hands, while Cro-Magnons talked through their mouths. Cro-Magnons refused to learn the Neanderthal way of speaking.”

“How did they solve that problem?” I asked.

“They just let nature take its course. Our Neanderthal men were captivated by the beautiful blond Cro-Magnons, so we clubbed their daughters in the heads and dragged them off to our caves. In time, we had a population of Cro-Neanderthals, and they were beautiful indeed.”

“So you are a mixture of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon?” I asked.

“I’m pure Neanderthal,” he said. “My ancestors refused to be contaminated by those French cave-dwellers and went off to settle in the Neanderthal Valley of Germany. There we developed into a pure master race.”

I stood there agog as a couple of men in white jackets approached us.

“OK, Wolfgang,” said one. “Let’s go back to your cell. This is the third time you’ve stolen the warden’s BMW. And where is your friend in the kilts?”

“As you can see,” the dapper gentleman said to me, “they’re still after us. We’ve been putting up with this for 40,000 years.”

Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson. Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@aol.com or visit his website at www.wadesdixieco.com.