Neanderthals co-existed with modern humans for long periods of time before becoming extinct around 28,000 years ago. The unfortunate stereotype of these people as dim-witted and brutish cavemen still lingers in popular ideology but research has revealed a more nuanced picture.
This species lived between 28,000 and 300,000 years ago
1) early Homo neanderthalensis from about 300,000 years ago
2) classic Homo neanderthalensis from about 130,000 years ago
3) late Homo neanderthalensis from about 45,000 years ago.
Important fossil discoveries
The first Neanderthal fossil was found in 1829, but it was not recognised as a possible human ancestor until more fossils were discovered during the second half of the 19th century. Since then, thousands of fossils representing the remains of many hundreds Neanderthal individuals have been recovered. Because of this. More is known about this human ancestor than about any other.
List of Neanderthal sites:
Schmerling Caves, Engis
Vaucluse, Bau de l’Aubesier
Grotte du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure
Lussac-les-Châteaux, Les Rochers-de-Villeneuve
Ardèche, Prehistoric and ancient history, Moula-Guercy
Neanderthal 1, Neander Valley
Krijn, Northsea shore
Bontnewydd, Llanelwy (Wales)
Creswell Crags (England)
La Cotte de St Brelade (Jersey, Channel Islands)
Lynford Quarry (England)
Swanscombe Heritage Park (England)
Abrigo de la Quebrada (Valencian Community)
Cova Foradà (Valencian Community) 
Cova Negra (Valencian Community) 
Cueva de Bolomor (Valencian Community, Spain) 
Cueva Negra (Region of Murcia)
El Salt (Valencian Community) 
Roca dels Bous (archaeological site)
Sidrón Cave (Asturias)
Sima de las Palomas (Region of Murcia)
Cova del Gegant (Sitges)
Abrigo do Lagar Velho (Leiria)
Figueira Brava (Arrabida Mountains)
Neanderthals of Gibraltar
Krapina Neanderthal site
Peștera cu Oase
Asia & middle east
a) Le Moustier: 45,000 year old skull discovered in Le Moustier, France. The distinctive features of Neanderthals are already apparent in this adolescent individual. This shows that these characteristics were genetic and not developed during an individual’s lifetime.
b) Shanidar 1: upper jaw with teeth. The front teeth of Neanderthals often show heavy wear, a characteristic that is even found in young Neanderthals. It is probable that they used their teeth as a kind of vice to help them hold animal skins or other objects as they worked.
c) La Ferrassie 1: 50,000 year old skull discovered in 1909 in La Ferrassie, France. This skull of an elderly male has the features associated with ‘classic’ European Neanderthals.
d) Amud 1: 45,000 year old skull discovered in 1961 by Hisashi Suzuki, in Amud, Israel. This individual was more than 180 centimetres tall and had the largest brain of any fossil human (1740 cubic centimetres). Neanderthals probably migrated to the Middle East during times of harsh European winters. These individuals had less robust features than their European counterparts.
e) Maba: partial skull classifed as Homo sp. (species uncertain) and discovered in Maba, China. This partial skull, dated to about 120,000 – 140,000 years old, shows remarkable similarities to European Neanderthals and its discovery in southern China suggests the possibility that Neanderthals travelled further east than once thought.
More fossil evidence from Asia is needed to understand the significance of this specimen.
f) La Chapelle aux-Saints: 50,000-year-old skull discovered in 1908 in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France. Male individual had lost most of his teeth and his skeleton showed evidence of major injuries and disease including a healed broken hip, and arthritis of the lower neck, back, hip and shoulders. He survived for quite some time with these complaints, which indicates that these people cared for the sick and elderly.
g) Neanderthal 1: a 45,000 year old skullcap discovered in 1856 in Feldhofer Grotto, Neander Valley, Germany. This is the ‘type specimen’ or official representative of this species.
h) Kebara 2: 60,000 year old partial skeleton discovered in 1983 in Kebara cave, Israel. This relatively complete skeleton belonged to an adult male. It was deliberately buried but as no grave goods were found it is difficult to infer any ritualistic behaviour.
i) Lagar Velho: 24,000 year old skeleton of a Homo sapiens boy discovered in 1998 in Abrigo do Lagar Velho,
central western Portugal. This specimen has been described by its discoverers (and particularly Eric Trinkhaus) as a Neanderthal-Homo sapiens hybrid. This interpretation was based on knee and leg proportions but as the head, pelvis and forearms are decidedly human it is more likely that the robustness is a climatic adaptation (see Tattersal and Schwartz). Comparisons to other humans of this period are difficult due to lack of knowledge on variations within child populations.
What the Neanderthal name means
Homo, is a Latin word meaning ‘human’ or ‘man’. The word neanderthalensis is based on the location where the first major specimen was discovered in 1856 – the Neander Valley in Germany. The German word for valley is ‘Tal’ although in the 1800s it was spelt ‘Thal’. Homo neanderthalensis therefore means ‘Human from the Neander Valley’.
Europeans and Asians share about 1-4% of their DNA and Africans none
This suggests that modern humans bred with Neanderthals after moderns left Africa but before they spread to Asia and Europe. The most likely location is the Levant, where both species co-existed for thousands of years at various times between 50-90,000 years ago.
Neanderthals are recognizably human but have distinctive facial features and a stocky build that were evolutionary adaptations to cold, dry environments
Body size and shape
Neanderthals were generally shorter and had more robust
skeletons and muscular bodies than modern humans.
Males averaged about 168 centimetres in height while females were slightly shorter at 156 centimetres.
Brain size was larger than the average modern human brain and averaged 1500 cubic centimetres. This is expected, as Neanderthals were generally heavier and more muscular than modern humans. People that live in cold climates also tend to have larger brains than those living in warm climates.
Distinctive skull shape that was long and low, with a rounded brain case
Back of the skull had a bulge called the occipital bun and a depression (the suprainiac fossa) for the attachment of strong neck muscles
Thick but rounded brow ridge lay under a relatively flat and receding Forehead
Mid-face region showed a characteristic forward projection (this resulted in a face that looked like it had been ‘pulled’ forward by the nose)
Orbits (eye sockets) were large and rounded
Nose was broad and very large
Jaws and teeth
Jaws were larger and more robust than those of modern humans and had a gap called the retromolar space, behind the third molars (wisdom teeth) at the back of the jaw.
Jaw lacked the projecting bony chin that is found in Homo sapiens.
Teeth were larger than those of modern humans.
Limbs and pelvis
Limb bones were thick and had large joints which indicates they had strongly muscled arms and legs
Shin bones and forearms tended to be shorter than those of modern humans. These proportions are typical for people living in cold climates.
Pelvis was wider from side to side than in modern humans and this may have slightly affected their posture
Evidence shows the these ‘Humans from the Neander Valley’ had a complex culture. Although they did not behave in the same ways as the early modern humans. Scholars debate the degree of symbolic behaviour shown by Neanderthals. Finds of art and adornment are rare, particularly when compared to late pleistocene and neolithic human contemporaries. They were creating greater amounts of cave paintings, portable art and jewellery. Some researchers believe neanderthals lacked cognitive skills to create art and symbols. And, that, they copied from or traded with modern humans rather than create their own. Others have suggested the scarcity may have been due to social and demographic factors, including thievry and deception. It is debatable.
Unfortunately, unless we go back in time, or scientists bring them back. The neanderthal stereotype of dim-witted and brutish cavemen may be around for quite some time. It never stopped a little pondering or questioning why we are stuck on the road we are on.
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