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. But it turns out they are not, in fact, entirely extinguished! Modern humans still carry some of their genes, showing that once upon a time, Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis knew each other pretty well.