Neanderthal Man or Homo neanderthalensis

Neanderthals have been a much-maligned species: a beetle-browed, hulking brute, incapable of much thought and condemned to be replaced by the much superior Homo sapiens. Part of the reason for this is that the first specimen found was not typical of his species, but the main reason is of course the whole "Man is superior" thing.

Let's start by noting that Neanderthals survived successfully for at least 200,000 years (perhaps 400-500,000 years) — a longer period of time than the 125,000-150,000 years Homo sapiens can lay claim to.

Then let's note that their brains were if anything slightly bigger than our own!

They did have heavier brows, heavier bones, broader shoulders, a wider pelvis, a broader trunk and virtually no waist. Their ribcage was more bell-shaped, instead of tapering off as it does with us. If you put a Neanderthal and an early human of the same era next to each other, you would be able to tell the difference.

But the importance of any differences for survival is another question. Maybe the reason they died out and Homo sapiens didn't was just the luck of the draw.

We now know they had a small hyoid bone, meaning that they could have had speech. Although long condemned as incapable of any symbolic behavior, such as art, we now have examples of cultural expression. Derided as clumsy, there is now evidence that their manual dexterity equalled that of Homo sapiens.

Neanderthals were found throughout Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, and finally died out, it seems, around 28,000 years ago. They may have proved unable to survive the encroaching cold.

News reports: 

January 16, 2012

Archaeologists find clues to Neanderthal extinction

Computational modeling using evidence of how hominin groups evolved culturally and biologically in response to climate change during the last Ice Age shows how Neanderthals could have disappeared not because they were failures, but because they were so successful.

During the last Ice Age, it appears, hominid hunter-gathers ranged more widely across Eurasia searching for food. These changes in the movements of Neanderthals and modern humans caused them to interact – and interbreed – more often.

December 27, 2011


By Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge

210 pages. Oxford University Press. $24.99.

Thomas Wynn (an anthropologist) and Frederick L. Coolidge (a psychologist argue that Neanderthals were

  • empathetic — but xenophobic;
  • companionable and strongly attached to family;
  • able but not skillful at planning ahead;
  • possessors of at least some language — but not human ability to symbolize;
  • possessors of impressive mechanical skills — but not innovative.

December 19, 2011

Neanderthal home made of mammoth bones discovered in Ukraine

Remains found in eastern Ukraine, near the town of Molodova, point to the existence of established Neanderthal communities. The remains, dated to around 44,000 years ago, are of a house built of bones (the area is fairly barren, with few trees to supply wood). The home was apparently built in two parts. The lower part, or base, was made by assembling large mammoth bones to support the whole structure, which was 26 feet across at its widest.

That the house was more than a temporary structure is shown by the presence of 25 different hearths inside, and decorative carvings and added pigments on some of the bones.

December 13, 2011

Did a good sense of smell give us an evolutionary advantage over Neanderthals?

Comparison of fossil skulls of hominins, including Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus, has revealed that the temporal lobes and olfactory bulbs are larger in Homo sapiens than in earlier hominid ancestors, and 12% larger in Homo sapiens compared to those of Neanderthals.

This suggests that smell is more important in human evolution than previously thought. It has been thought that our sense of smell is poorer than it is in other primates, including our ancestors, but smell can play an important role in social behavior (in kinship recognition, enhanced family relations, group cohesion and social learning), so these new findings are entirely consistent with the social brain hypothesis.

October 20, 2011

Solving the mysteries of short-legged Neandertals

Neandertals are known to have been shorter than us, with shorter lower leg lengths than modern humans. Because mammals in cold areas tend to be more compact, with a smaller surface area, it’s been thought that climate is behind these differences between the species. These differences have been thought to reflect a disadvantage for Neandertals, with their shorter steps making their movements less efficient. However, a new analysis suggests that, while this may be true in flat environments, in mountainous terrain, shorter legs may be more efficient.

This analysis was supported by a comparison of various other mammals found in both flat and mountainous areas. Mountainous bovids, such as sheep and mountain goats, overall had shorter lower leg bones than their relatives on flat land, such as antelopes and gazelles, even when they lived in the same climates. The one mountainous gazelle species examined also had relatively shorter lower legs than other gazelle species, while the one flat land member of the sheep and goat group exhibited relatively longer lower legs than the other sheep and goat species.

September 15, 2011

Neanderthals ate shellfish 150,000 years ago

Charred shellfish found in a cave near Torremolinos in southern Spain have been dated to about 150,000 years ago, demonstrating that humans weren’t the only ones to discover the “brain-boosting” seafood — Neanderthals did it too. The earliest evidence of modern humans eating shellfish dates to 164,000 years ago, in South Africa.

The study is available online at:

August 25, 2011

Inter-breeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans helps human immune system

Modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans (discovered in 2008 in southern Siberia) split into distinct populations approximately 400,000 years ago. The Neanderthal lineage migrated northwestward into West Asia and Europe, the Denisovan lineage moved northeastward into East Asia, while our lineage stayed in Africa until 65,000 years or so ago.

Last year, a partial genome sequence of Neanderthals revealed that up to 4% of the human genome is Neanderthal, while another analysis revealed that up to 6% of the genomes of Melanesians are Denisovan in origin. (At present, however, our knowledge of the Denisovans is based only on DNA recovered from a 30,000–50,000-year-old finger bone found in a cave in Denisova in southern Siberia.)

New research reveals that these cross-species matings gave us new variants of immune system genes called the HLA class I genes, which are critical for our body's ability to recognize and destroy viruses. Within one class of HLA gene, the researchers estimate that Europeans owe half of their variants to interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans, Asians owe up to 80% and Papua New Guineans, up to 95%.

Interbreeding between Neanderthals and humans has been dated to 65,000–90,000 years ago.

July 28, 2011

Humans out-numbered Neanderthals

The big question has always been: why did the Neanderthals die out?

A detailed statistical analysis of the archaeological evidence from southwestern France, which contains the largest concentration of Neanderthal and early modern human sites in Europe, has now revealed that the earliest modern human populations out-numbered the local Neanderthal population at least ten-fold.

The archaeological evidence also strongly suggests that the incoming modern groups possessed superior hunting technologies and equipment, as well as having more wide-ranging social contacts with adjacent human groups (allowing trade and exchange of essential food supplies in times of food scarcity).

The analysis compared three cultures: two Neanderthal — the Late Mousterian, from 55,000 to 44,000 years ago, and the Châtelperronian, from 44,000 to 40,250 years ago; and one human — the Aurignacian, from 40,250 to 35,000 years ago.

The region contained 26 Late Mousterian and 37 Châtelperronian sites, and 147 human sites. Moreover, while the size of the sites overlapped, on average the human sites were twice as large as the Neanderthal sites. The population density, measured by the numbers of stone tools and animal bones found per square meter, was also nearly twice as great in human sites.

July 18, 2011

Genetic research confirms non-Africans are part Neanderthal

Almost a decade ago, researchers identified a piece of DNA in the human X chromosome that seemed different and whose origins they questioned. The haplotype is present in peoples everywhere, except for sub-Saharan Africa. Now the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome shows that this sequence is Neandertal in origin.

May 16, 2011

Neanderthals planned hunt

Excavations at the Jonzac Neanderthal site in France — a rock shelter believed to have been used over a long period of time as a hunting camp — have revealed a rich layer of adult reindeer bones about 70,000 years down. Chemical analysis of the teeth suggests that these reindeer moved from one area to another and back again while their teeth were developing, via a similar migration route. The finding suggests that the Neanderthals planned their stays at the camp to coincide with a regular migration route.

May 9, 2011

Re-dating Neanderthal extinction

Homo sapiens and Neanderthals are thought to have encountered each other at least twice: at least 80,000 years ago in the Near East, and around 40,000 years ago in Europe. Breeding between the two is thought to date to the first encounter, suggesting that the second encounter didn’t last long.

Recently, new radiocarbon dating techniques have been allowing improved precision. The latest re-dating concerns a Neanderthal infant in the Caucasus region, and pushes back its dates to between 42,300 and 45,600 years ago. Moreover, statistical modeling suggests that no Neanderthals are likely to have survived at the site later than 39,000 years ago. The previous dating suggested that Neanderthals had lasted until as recently as 30,000 years ago.

March 14, 2011

Neanderthals could control fire

A survey of Neanderthal excavation sites in Europe provides clear evidence that Neanderthals had mastered fire. Control of fire and the making of stone tools are considered the two hallmark events in the development of early humans. Stone tool technology dates back at least 2.5 million years; the origin of fire control has been a more contentious issue.

The earliest evidence of habitual Neanderthal fire use comes from the Beeches Pit site in England dating to roughly 400,000 years ago. The evidence indicates that early humans (probably Homo heidelbergenis) pushed into Europe's colder northern latitudes more than 800,000 years ago without the habitual control of fire. Most have believed these areas were too cold to humans for survive without fire.

It’s thought that early hominids made fire by striking pieces of flint with chunks of iron pyrite. One of the most spectacular uses of fire by Neanderthals was in the production of a sticky liquid called pitch from the bark of birch trees that was used by Neanderthals to haft, or fit wooden shafts on, stone tools.

February 23, 2011

Evidence Neanderthals used feathers for decoration

660 bird bones found with Neanderthal remains in a cave in northern Italy are thought to indicate the use of feathers for decoration. Wing bones show toolmarks at the points where large feathers would have been attached.

February 7th, 2011

Early humans best at running, Neanderthals at walking

A comparison of the heels of Neanderthals and ancient Homo sapiens has revealed that Neanderthals had taller heels, while a comparison of eight distance runners has found that shorter and lower heel bones were associated with more efficient oxygen consumption while running. These findings suggest that Neanderthals were better at walking, but Homo sapiens were better adapted to endurance running.

January 17, 2011

Neanderthal faces not adapted to cold

The prominent cheekbones and wide noses of Neanderthal faces have been thought to be an adaptation to extreme cold. However, CT scans of Neanderthal and medieval Homo sapiens skulls have now found that although Neanderthals did have larger sinuses than Homo sapiens, the relationship between the size of the face and the size of the sinuses was the same in both species. This suggests the facial features were not related to adaptation to cold, and reinforces the idea that Neanderthals, like us, were temperate creatures.

January 10, 2011

Dying young did not cause Neanderthals' demise

One of the many theories for the Neanderthals’ extinction has been that they died young, putting them at a demographic disadvantage with Homo sapiens. A survey of fossil records, however, has revealed similar patterns of mortality in both populations, with about the same number of 20-40 year old adults.

December 27, 2010

Neanderthals had similar diets to early humans

A theory that that Neanderthals' over reliance on meat contributed to their extinction has been challenged by finding remnants of date palms, seeds, grains and legumes on fossilized Neanderthal teeth unearthed in Belgium and Iraq. Many of the particles showed signs of having been cooked. The fossils were 36,000 and 46,000 years old.

Mass murder site gives clues to Neanderthal family structure

A cave in Northern Spain is the home of 12 Neanderthals that were apparently killed and eaten by fellow Neanderthals some 49,000 years ago. DNA analysis of the bones reveals that the individuals in the group were very similar genetically, confirming earlier reports that Neanderthals had less genetic diversity than modern humans.

The presence of the same mitochondrial DNA in three adult males, two teenage males, and one child, points to them all being closely related on the maternal side. Another teenager, child, and infant, also carried a type of mtDNA found in one adult female, suggesting that they were her offspring or close relatives. The three adult females, on the other hand, carried mtDNA from three different lineages.

The pattern suggests that Neanderthals lived in small groups of closely related males and that females moved in from other clans. This system (patrilocality) is very common in human hunter-gatherer societies.

November 15, 2010

Teeth suggest modern humans mature more slowly than Neanderthals did

Analysis of the teeth of young hominids from the middle Paleolithic reveals that Neanderthal children matured significantly faster than our own species. The small samples indicates it took the Neanderthals 2.5 years to form their first molar crowns, compared with an average 3 years in modern humans. Second molars appeared by age 8 in Neanderthals, and 10 to 12 years on average in modern humans.

Nevertheless, both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens show slower dental immaturity when compared with earlier hominids.

November 8, 2010

Differences in human and Neanderthal brains set in just after birth

Comparison of the brains of 58 humans and 60 chimps has found that, while the brains are very similar at birth, humans expand their parietal lobes and cerebellums and widen their temporal lobes in the first year of life. This results in the characteristic rounded dome of our skulls. Using the same methods on endocasts of nine fossil Neanderthals of various ages, it was found that Neanderthal babies, like chimpanzees, did not show the preferential bulging in the parietal and cerebellar regions at one year.

Although the finding needs verification from more fossils, it has been speculated that the difference may point to differences in speech and social interaction.

November 3, 2010

Fossil fingers suggest Neanderthals more aggressive and promiscuous

Comparison of finger ratios among early hominids has found that the fossil finger ratios of Neanderthals and early humans were lower than most living humans, suggesting that they had been exposed to high levels of prenatal androgens. Androgens are hormones important in the development of masculine characteristics such as aggression and promiscuity (testosterone is an androgen), so this finding has been taken to indicate that early humans were likely to be more competitive and promiscuous than people today. On this basis, Australopithecus (dating from some three to four million years ago) was likely to be monogamous, while the earlier Ardipithecus appears to have been highly promiscuous and more similar to living great apes.

October 19, 2010

Doubt over whether Neanderthals made jewelry

Excavations at the Grotte du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure have over the years revealed many Neanderthal fossils and artefacts, providing persuasive evidence of Neanderthal culture (in the form of ornaments and tools). However a new dating study suggests that this evidence is unreliable — the 15 archaeological layers appear to be mixed up, with many items outside the ranges they would be expected to be from the layer in which they were found.

October 1, 2010

Did volcanoes wipe out Neanderthals?

A cave in southern Russia's Caucasus Mountains has revealed evidence of two major volcanic eruptions around 40,000 years ago, together with a dramatic shift to a cooler and dryer climate. The second eruption seems to mark the end of Neanderthal presence at the Mezmaiskaya cave, and corresponds to what is known as the Campanian Ignimbrite super-eruption some 40,000 years ago in Italy.

It’s argued that these eruptions caused a "volcanic winter", and the extinction of the Neanderthals, who were simply living in the wrong place at the wrong time.

September 21, 2010

Neanderthals more advanced than previously thought

About 42,000 years ago, the Aurignacian culture, attributed to modern Homo sapiens, appeared in northern Italy, while central Italy continued to be occupied by Neanderthals of the Mousterian culture which had been around for at least 100,000 years. At the same time a new culture, the Uluzzian, arose in the south, and this one is also thought to be created by Neanderthals. Uluzzian sites have uncovered projectile points, ochre, bone tools, ornaments and possible evidence of fishing and small game hunting.

August 11, 2010

Neanderthals didn’t die out

Sequencing of the Neanderthal genome has revealed that some of their genes are still present in humans in Eurasia, and that  indeed Neanderthals are on average closer to individuals in Eurasia than to individuals in Africa. From the degrees of relatedness it would appear that the two species interbred before humans diverged into Europeans, East Asians, and Papuans.

The new theory, then, points to a hominid migration from Africa round 400,000 years ago, which dispersed into Europe and western Asia, followed by a second African migration around 80,000—50,000 years ago. We are the descendents of these two peoples.

Bones from Vindija cave in Croatia are the source material for the Neanderthal genome, now 60% complete.

June 1, 2010

Neanderthals walk into frozen Britain 40,000 years earlier than thought

Discovery of two ancient flint hand tools at Dartford in Kent, in soil dated to around 100,000 years ago, prove Neanderthals were living in Britain at this time. Although earlier hominids did occupy Britain even further back, they were forced south by a previous glaciation about 200, 000 year ago. By the time the climate warmed up again between 130,000 and 110,000 years ago, the Channel sea-level was raised, blocking their path. Although a land-bridge allowed migration by around 100,000 years ago, until now there was no evidence for habitation until around 60, 000 years ago.

April 21, 2010

Neanderthals may have interbred with humans twice

DNA from nearly 2000 people from around the globe suggests that extinct human species such as Homo neanderthalensis or Homo heidelbergensis interbred with our own ancestors during two separate periods — in the Mediterranean around 60,000 years ago, and the second in eastern Asia about 45,000 years ago. There was no evidence of the interbreeding in the DNA of modern Africans included in the study.

January 11, 2010

Neanderthal symbolism

50,000-year-old perforated painted seashells and pigment containers on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe suggests that symbolic thinking dates back to the common ancestor between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. The shells were “almost certainly” used as pendants and the pigments are believed to have been used as cosmetics. The practice of body ornamentation has been widely accepted by archaeologists as evidence for modern behaviour and symbolic thinking in early modern humans.

Earlier discoveries of such material found at Neanderthal-associated sites before, has previously been explained by stratigraphic mixing, Neanderthal scavenging of abandoned modern human sites, or Neanderthal imitation without understanding. (Gosh, don’t we try hard to make humans special!) The discovery in a region inhabited solely by Neanderthals at the time has challenged these interpretations.

January 27, 2010

Last Neanderthals died out 37,000 years ago

New dating evidence for the Late Aurignacian of Portugal, an archaeological culture unquestionably associated with modern humans, is said to firmly constrain the age of the last Neanderthals of southern and western Iberia (the last refuge of Neanderthals) to no younger than some 37,000 years ago.

The claim is at odds with the theory that Neanderthal populations remained in the Gibraltar area until 28,000 years ago, and would mean that the 30,000 year old child unearthed in Portugal could not be a result of crossbreeding between modern human and Neanderthal, despite its archaic features.

Research paper at

August 11, 2009

'Taste test' for Neanderthal DNA

There’s a very bitter chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC, which is found in various leafy vegetables and some poisonous plants. While most of us find this chemical very bitter, around a quarter of us can’t taste it at all. The genetic variation which makes this possible, and which allows us to taste bitter flavors, has now been found to exist in Neanderthals 48,000 years ago, suggesting that this gene difference goes back to our common ancestor.

May 14, 2009

Neanderthals just as good at hunting as humans

Analysis of two Neanderthal sites has revealed that, just as for modern humans, the environment and the availability of food determined the choice of prey and the hunting method adopted by Neanderthals. In the right conditions, Neanderthals could hunt in large groups to bring down the most difficult to catch game.

May 17, 2009

Neanderthal eaten by humans

In a controversial suggestion, a leading fossil expert claims that the marks on a Neanderthal jawbone (found in south-west France) show that it was butchered by modern humans, and most probably eaten. Others argue that instead the jawbone was simply found by humans and its teeth used to make a necklace. (My own feeling is that we should be wary any time the interpretation that puts humans in a bad light is discarded in favor of one that puts humans in the best light. Given that humans have long engaged in cannibalism in various times and places, I can think of no good reason why we wouldn’t have done the same with a cousin species. I would not, of course, leap from that to the conclusion that we caused their extinction by killing and eating them! From all the evidence, we would seem to have been more evenly matched than that.)

April 6, 2009

Neanderthal tools as good as humans’

A comparison of Neanderthal and early human tools from the same site has enabled the two cultures to be compared when their environments are similar. The Neanderthal (Mousterian) tools (dated to 36,000—40,000 years ago) and those dated to 33,000—36,000 years old, made in the Aurignacian style associated with early modern humans, reveals a great similarity between their tools, although humans created a greater variety of tools.

September 22, 2008

Neanderthals had a taste for seafood

Fossils from seaside caves in Gibraltar suggest that the last of the Neanderthals included mussels, dolphins and monk seals in their diet, in addition to wild boar, red deer, ibex and bears. The hearths have been carbon-dated to around 28,000 years ago — 7,000 years later than other Neanderthal relics elsewhere in Europe. The beach caves would have been some 1-2 kilometres from the sea back then. The plentiful food supply and stabilising influence of the Atlantic on the local climate is thought to have protected the Neanderthals in Gibraltar from the effects of glaciation further north

May 1, 2007

Climate change behind Neanderthal extinction?

Climate reconstructions using data from Gorham's cave on Gibraltar suggests Neanderthal populations suffered fluctuations related to climate changes before the first Homo sapiens arrived on the Iberian Peninsula. The study found Neanderthals, 24,000 years ago, had to face the worst weather conditions of the last 250,000 years.

Journal article at

January 16, 2007

40,000-year-old skull shows both modern human and Neanderthal traits

The earliest largely complete example of an early modern human skull known from Europe was found in the Peºtera cu Oase (the Cave with Bones) in southwestern Romania with other human samples from the Late Pleistocene. Radiocarbon dating could only say it was at least 35,000 years old, but a human mandible found nearby could be dated to about 40,500 years ago.

These are the earliest modern human remains so far found in Europe, and reveal many similarities with modern humans, but also some important differences: frontal flattening, a fairly large juxtamastoid eminence and exceptionally large upper molars with unusual size progression which are found principally among the Neanderthals. The findings could reflect cross-breeding with Neanderthals.

December 2006

European Neanderthals showed significant physical differences from north to south

Study of 43,000-year-old Neanderthal remains at El Sidrón in Spain reveal significant physical differences between those from northern and southern Europe, with southern European Neanderthals showing broader faces with increased lower facial heights. The comparison was made with Britain's most substantial Neanderthal fossil discovered at Kent's Cavern in Torbay in 1926.

13 September 2006

Late survival of Neanderthals at the southernmost extreme of Europe

Neanderthals lived in Gibraltar at least as recently as 28,000 years ago, long after Neanderthals elsewhere in southwest Europe appear to have become extinct, and after Homo sapiens moved into western Europe (about 40,000 years ago). 240 stone tools and artefacts have been dated between 28,000 and 24,000 years old.

The finding gives more credence to a skeleton found in Portugal (the Lagar Velho child) that is purported to be a hybrid of a Neanderthal and a modern human, which was dated to 24,500 years ago.

The finding also supports the view that rapid climate change may have been responsible for their extinction.

August 28, 2006

How Modern Were European Neanderthals?

Re-examination of decorated bone points and personal ornaments found in the Châtelperronian culture of France and Spain has pointed to them belonging to Neandertals around 44,000 years ago, rather than acquired from Homo sapiens. This adds to the evidence from other sites that the Neandertals already had the capacity for symbolic thinking before the arrival of modern humans into western Europe.

22 February 2006

Humans vs. Neanderthals: Game Over Earlier

New radiocarbon dating techniques suggest the first modern humans arrived in the Balkans from Israel around 46,000 years ago, about 3,000 years earlier than thought, and spread west to the Atlantic coast in around 2,500 to 3,000 years, about 1,000 years quicker than believed. Because this shortens the period of interaction between modern humans and Neanderthals to 6,000 years instead of 10,000, it’s suggested that Neanderthals were indeed killed off by the advance of modern humans. It’s also suggested that modern humans were better equipped to deal with the dramatic fall in temperatures around 40,000 years ago, because of their better technology (such as clothing and better control of fire).

1 February 2006

Neanderthals: Top-Notch Hunters

Evidence from animal remains hunted by Neanderthals in the southern Caucasus clearly indicates that they were great hunters, casting doubt on the theory that they died out because modern humans were better hunters.

Original Discovery News article can still be read here, although it’s disappeared from the Discovery site

Original academic journal article (pdf)

11 September 2005

Neanderthal Man was not a hairy oaf but a sensitive kinda guy

Although a complete skeleton of Neanderthal man has never been found, scientists have now reconstructed a complete Neanderthal using bones from seven incomplete skeletons. The reconstructions supports the view that Neanderthals were inferior to modern humans in long-distance running, and consequently developed different survival strategies.

1 September 2005

'Tragic end' for Neanderthals

New evidence has emerged that Neanderthals co-existed with Homo sapiens for at least a thousand years in central France. No signs of them have been found from around 28 000-30 000 years ago. There are two possible reasons for this (aside from the obvious, that we have simply not yet found more recent remains): the Neanderthals might have become extinct; or they interbred with Homo sapiens, becoming indistinguishable from them.

However, this has been rendered less plausible by the finding in France of site where Neanderthals and Homo sapiens lived sequentially. The Neanderthals lived there around 40,000 to 38,000 years ago, when the climate was relatively mild. Then came a sudden and prolonged cold snap, and the Neanderthal left and Homo sapiens moved in for about 1,000—1,500 years. When the climate warmed again, Homo sapiens left and the Neanderthals returned, staying from around 36,500 years ago to 35,000 years ago, before finally disappearing for good.

The finding also provides evidence of the Neanderthals' vulnerability to climate change.,,2-13-1443_1763055,00.html

16 August 2005

Neanderthals Craved Bison, Mammoths

A study of Neanderthals living in France 35,000 years ago indicates that, despite being surrounded by small prey animals, woolly rhinoceros and woolly mammoth dominated their diet.

March 17, 2005

New Neanderthal knowledge

Comparison of the oldest fossil hominid protein (osteocalcin), from a 75,000-year-old Neanderthal fossil, with that of chimpanzees, old world monkeys, orangutans, gorillas and modern humans, has revealed that the protein sequence was the same in modern humans and Neanderthal.

25 November 2004

Neanderthals and the modern human colonization of Europe

Mitochondrial DNA from seven Neanderthal specimens is distinctly different from those of all known present-day human populations and also from that recovered from five early specimens of anatomically modern humans. This supports the view that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens did not interbreed. The DNA also indicates that the initial evolutionary separation of the Neanderthals from the populations which eventually gave rise to genetically modern populations must reach back at least 300,000 years.

21 January 2004

Big chill killed off the Neanderthals

Why did the Neanderthals die out? As with the similar question re dinosaurs, there’s been lots of suggestions, including (in this case) the idea that humans were responsible. Now a team of 30 archaeologists, anthropologists, geologists and climate modellers have compiled a broad-ranging view of life during the period and concluded that the culprit was the climate.

This is the story they paint:

  • Huge variations in Europe’s climate in the period between 70,000 and 20,000 years ago
  • 30,000 years ago, ice sheets marched south and winter temperatures plummeted to -10°C, and Neanderthals retreated south from northern Europe
  • The earliest modern humans (Aurignacians), who appeared around 40,000 years ago, also retreated south
  • A group of technologically superior modern humans (Gravettians) appeared in eastern Europe 29,000 to 30,000 years ago, and with the help of that new technology, clothing, proved able to tough out the cold. Their coming revitalised the human population.
  • The Neanderthals, however, couldn’t survive and died out, probably around 28,000 years ago.

2 December 2003

Neanderthal face found in Loire

A 35,000 year old “mask” — a flint object showing signs of having been chipped to produce a striking likeness to a human face — "should finally nail the lie that Neanderthals had no art."

Although a number of examples of Neanderthal art have been found, each one has typically been dismissed as a “one-off”. "With Neanderthals, there may have been the odd da Vinci-like genius, but their talents died with them."

27 March 2003

Neanderthals capable of fine handiwork

Another slur on Neanderthals has been that they didn’t have the dexterity to make and use tools. A new computer analysis of their finger bones, however, finds that they were perfectly capable of producing the same grips humans can. Indeed, it’s been suggested that their grasp may have been superior. Neanderthal hands were more heavily muscled than modern human hands, with broad finger tips.

19 January 2002

Neanderthals clever enough to make 'superglue'

A new analysis of two 80,000-year-old samples of blackish-brown pitch discovered in a lignite mining pit in the Harz mountains in Germany has revealed signs that the pitch was used as a sort of glue to secure a wooden shaft to a flint stone blade. The pitch, moreover, was a birch pitch, which can be only be produced at temperatures of 0-400C, suggesting that the Neanderthals possessed a high degree of technical and manual abilities.

Studies of the DNA structure of present-day human populations in different areas of the world and traces of ancient DNA extracted from a number of Neanderthal and early anatomically modern human remains point to modern humans originating from one limited area of Africa around 150,000 years ago, followed by their dispersal to other regions of the world between about 60,000 and 40,000 years ago.