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: 

Neanderthals used chemical fire starters

March 03, 2016

Neanderthal sites in France have often revealed large numbers of manganese oxide “blocks” which researchers typically ascribed to body decorating. A new analysis has extended that to claim that 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals deliberately collected manganese dioxide to assist with fire starting.

While it’s widely accepted that Neanderthals routinely used fire and that charcoal and soot were readily available to use for decorative purposes, the use of manganese oxides is a different ball game: providing significant benefits, it nevertheless would have required not only a considerably higher investment in time and energy to acquire, but significant cognitive capability.


Neanderthals mated with modern humans much earlier than thought

New DNA analysis has produced strong evidence that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred around 100,000 years ago, much earlier than the interbreeding event dated to around 47,000-65,000 years ago, when human populations left Africa.

This finding reflects the other side of the interbreeding equation: human DNA in a Neanderthal genome, rather than Neanderthal DNA in human genomes. The trace was found in the "Altai Neanderthal", found in the Altai Mountains. No such trace was found in the two Neanderthals from European caves that were sequenced for this study, nor did the Denisovan found in the same cave as the Altai Neanderthal.

The modern human sequences in the Altai Neandertal appear to derive from a group of modern human ancestors from Africa that separated early from other humans, around 200,000 years ago, leaving Africa much earlier than the later migration, and meeting up with Neanderthals around 100,000 years ago.

Homo sapiens remains that are around 100,000 years ago have been found in the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in Israel, and 80,000-yeal-old human teeth have been found in a cave in southern China.

Intriguingly, one strand of modern human DNA found in the Altai Neanderthal involved a gene called FOXP2 which has been linked to language development.

Did Neanderthals die out because cultural inferiority?

February 03, 2016

An analysis of interspecies competition, comparing the differences between Neanderthals and modern humans and their levels of cultural development, has concluded that although the groups were cognitively equivalent, even a small population of modern humans could have totally displaced a larger Neanderthal population, given that the modern humans possessed a sufficiently large cultural advantage over the Neanderthals.

The model the researchers used stresses the importance of the “founder effect”, which states that a loss of genetic variation occurs when a different population establishes itself with only a small number of individuals from a larger group. These findings indicate that the disappearance of the Neanderthals was based more on endogenous (internal) causes such as relative cultural level, rather than extrinsic (external) factors such as climate change or epidemics.

Neanderthals may have reached Denmark

January 26, 2016

How far north did the Neanderthals go? It's been argued that Denmark would have been too cold, but a new analysis using palaeoenvironmental reconstruction techniques to model the environment of Northern Germany and Southern Scandinavia during the Last Interglacial Complex has concluded that climatic constraint and/or a lack of suitable habitats can't fully explain the absence of Neanderthals in Southern Scandinavia.

Some evidence for a Neanderthal presence in Denmark exists, but is inconclusive.

The study did find evidence that a geographic barrier may have impeded northerly migrations during the Eemian Interglacial Period between 130,000 and 115,000 years ago. Higher sea levels may well have meant that Denmark was cut off from the continent , with the Baltic and North Seas connecting over southern Denmark.

Skull model suggests common ancestor of Neanderthals & H. sapiens much earlier than thought

December 20, 2015

A 3D model of the skull of the last common ancestor to both humans and Neanderthals, created by a statistical analysis of available fossils, suggests that that population was actually much older than previously thought: 700,000 years ago, rather than the 400,000 years currently believed.

797 landmarks on the crania of various fossil skulls were plotted to create an evolutionary framework for skull development, from which a timeline of the changes in morphology of hominid skulls was produced. Three possible ancestral skull shapes were then created, corresponding to three predicted split times between the two lineages. These were then compared with the few available fossils from the Pleistocene to determine the most likely point for the split.

Differences between Neanderthal & human faces

December 09, 2015

Neanderthal and human faces are quite different, with Neanderthals having large, projecting (prognathic) faces typical of hominid, and modern humans have an atypical retracted face. New analysis has determined that a key cause is marked differences in the two species’ post-natal growth processes.

These differences rest on opposing bone formation cells: osteoblasts form and deposit bone, and osteoclasts trigger resorption by breaking down bone cells. Neanderthals and other ancient hominins developed projecting upper jaw bones due to extensive osteoblast deposits on their faces without counterbalancing osteoclasts. Whereas the growth of human faces is counterbalanced by resorptive osteoclasts in the lower part of the face, meaning the development of a less prominent jaw.

Denisovans more genetically diverse than Neanderthals

November 17, 2015

The recent DNA sequencing of a third Denisovan has determined that they were more genetically diverse than Neanderthals, and that they occupied the area for thousands of years. The first two specimens were dated to around 50,000 years ago, but the third has been dated to around 60,000 years ago. All were found in the same cave.

The DNA from the older Denisovan also bears a close relationship with Neanderthals, although some of it seems only distantly connected to either Neanderthal or human DNA. This has led to suggestions that the Denisovans may have bred with hitherto undiscovered hominin species.

Neanderthals arrived in Italy earlier than thought

November 05, 2015

Two Neanderthal skulls, discovered in a gravel pit in Saccopastore near Lazio in the 1930s, have been dated to 250,000 years ago, 100,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The re-analysis occurred because of a long-standing mystery: eleven stone artefacts found with them seemed to be significantly older than the bones themselves.

The new date pushes back the Neanderthal arrival in Italy, suggesting that it occurred at roughly the same time as their arrival in Europe. Previously, the earliest Neanderthal specimen found in Italy was Altamura Man, dated to between 128,000 and 187,000 years old.

Did Neanderthals kept Homo sapiens out of Europe?

The discovery of 47 ancient human teeth in Fuyan cave in Daoxian, southern China, shows modern humans must have left Africa much earlier than thought, reaching southern China more than 80,000 years ago.

The teeth were beneath rocks over which stalagmites had grown, showing that they must be at least as old as the 80,000-year-old stalagmites, and could be up to 125,000 years old.

Why did our ancestors take so long to arrive in Europe, if they were moving about Eurasia so long ago? It's speculated that the reason was that Neanderthals were in Europe, and they were much better fitted to cope wit the harsher, colder conditions that existed in Europe.

Neanderthals split earlier than thought

September 17, 2015

Genome sequencing of 430,000-year-old fossils found in the Sima de los Huesos cave in Spain has revealed that Neanderthals split into a separate species much earlier than previously thought, possibly as early as 700,000 years ago, instead of 400,000 years ago.

The fossils at Sima de los Huesos were first discovered in the 1990s and consisted of thousands of pieces of bone and teeth, belonging to 28 different individuals. Initially thought to belong to early Neanderthals, inconsistencies had them re-classified as Homo heidelbergensis.

Two years ago, analysis of mitochondrial DNA revealed that they were genetically closer to Denisovans than Neanderthals. Had they interbred?

The new analysis of nuclear DNA shows that the occupants of the Sima cave had split from the ancestor they shared with the Denisovans more than 430,000 years ago and they were Neanderthals. This suggests that modern humans and Neanderthals split around 650,000 years ago, while Neanderthals and Denisovans separated some 450,000 years ago.

Neanderthal “Bathtub” Found in Spain

August 30, 2015

A hole in the floor of a cave in Abric Romani, near Barcelona, adds to growing evidence that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than once believed. The hole is 40 by 30 by 10 centimeters and the remains of stones (limestone and speleotherm) with “thermical fractures” suggest that the water in it was heated by throwing hot stones in.

The cave was occupied some 60,000 years ago, and shows signs of separate 'rooms', marked off by hearths, for other activities. There was a sleeping area, an area for trash, another for stone tools to be made and animals butchered.

Neanderthals preferred young elephant meat

Recent analysis suggests that Neanderthals preferred young elephants over other meat. Butchered mammoth and elephant bones are common at Neanderthal sites, with young elephants making up a large proportion of these remains. Often their skulls show evidence of being cracked open, suggesting this was a particular delicacy.

While young elephants are of course going to be easier to kill than mature elephants, historical records from a Kenyan tribe reveals that young elephants were preferred because of their taste. Biochemical analysis has also revealed that the nutritional value of young elephant meat is much higher than that of adult elephants.

Early European had recent Neanderthal ancestor


DNA analysis from the jawbone of a human who lived in Europe about 40,000 years ago (37,000 to 42,0000) has now revealed that it belonged to a modern human whose recent ancestors included Neanderthals. The length of segments of intact Neanderthal DNA indicates that the human had a Neanderthal ancestor just four to six generations back. In total, some 6-9% of its genome was Neanderthal.

The finding provides the first genetic evidence that humans interbred with Neanderthals in Europe. Previously, the only known interbreeding occurred in the Middle East about 50-60,000 years ago. It is this event that put 1-3% of Neanderthal DNA in modern non-Africans.

However, this human doesn't seem to be closely related to later Europeans, suggesting that there may have been an early group of human migrants to Europe that were later replaced by another group. In fact, he is genetically closer to East Asians and Native Americans.

An interesting and unexpected point: though we each carry only a tiny fraction of Neanderthal DNA, the human species carries around a fifth of the Neanderthal genome in total.

The jawbone was found in 2002 in the Oase cave in south western Romania.

For more information: An early modern human from Romania with a recent Neanderthal ancestor

Homo sapiens didn't out-hunt Neanderthals?


Analysis of the stone weapons used by humans about 42,000-34,000 years ago challenges the idea that humans replaced Neanderthals because they had superior weapons.

The stone tools used by people in the Early Ahmarian culture and the Protoaurignacian culture, living in south and west Europe and west Asia around 40,000 years ago, included small stone points as tips for hunting weapons like throwing spears. This has been considered to be a significant innovation that helped humans migrate from west Asia to Europe. However, if so, the stone points should move in the same direction as the humans.

A new study shows that the stone points may have appeared in Europe 3,000 years earlier (42,000 years ago) than in the Levant (39,000 years), suggesting humans may have developed the new tools in Europe.

Teeth confirm Homo sapiens produced Protoaurignacian culture

April 24th, 2015

Analysis of two teeth from the Protoaurignacian sites of Grotta di Fumane and Riparo Bombrini in Northern Italy reveals that they are human and date back 40,000 years, making them the oldest modern human remains in an Aurignacian-related archeological context, overlapping in time with the last Neanderthals.

The analysis provides the first direct evidence that the earliest Aurignacian culture was indeed produced by modern humans.

The Protoaurignacian culture, which spread in Southwest and South-Central Europe around 42,000 cal BP, was characterized by a remarkable set of technological innovations in stone knapping and bone tool industries, as well as by the large use of personal ornaments.

DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa2773

Homo sapiens brought disease to Neanderthals

April 08, 2015

A new study suggests modern humans brought new diseases to Europe, that the Neanderthals had never encountered before and could not fight as effectively.

The researchers claim that Neanderthal populations were becoming increasingly isolated, gradually impoverishing their gene pools and thus limiting their capacity to develop immunity to new diseases and even cope with already familiar ones.

The idea is based on evidence that many of the illnesses we associate with modern humans, and which were thought to have evolved around 11,000 years ago with the advent of farming and animal domestication, seem to have been prevalent among Neanderthals as well. It may in fact have been the other way around: we passed these diseases onto our domestic animals.

Are Neanderthal bone flutes the work of Ice Age hyenas?

April 9th, 2015

A new analysis of cave bear bones argues that so-called 'Neanderthal bone flutes' are not artefacts at all, but simply bones punctured by the teeth of hyena trying to get at the marrow.

The bone 'flutes', found in the caves of Eastern Europe, have always been the subjection of contention. This new analysis makes a number of compelling points:

the holes are only present on the bones of cubs, which are more elastic and therefore more likely to puncture rather than break under pressure.

the position of the holes are mainly on the thinner side of the bone and where there are holes on both sides, the holes match up with the damage upper and lower jaw bone crushing teeth in the skull of a hyena could do.

the oval shaped holes match with the oval marks a crushing premolar tooth of a hyena would leave.

there are no signs of drill marks or stone tool marks on the margins of the holes which would have resulted from human tool use.

a reconstruction of the drilling process didn't replicate the marks seen.

DOI: 10.1098/rsos.140022

Altamura Man yields oldest Neanderthal DNA sample

April 3rd, 2015

Altamura Man, discovered in a cave in southern Italy in 1993, has been confirmed as Neanderthal and dated to between 128,000 – 187,000 years ago. This makes him the oldest Neanderthal from which DNA has been extracted.

DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.02.007

Volcanic eruptions contributed to Neanderthal decline

March 23, 2015

Models of the climatic changes caused by an eruption in the Campanian Ignimbrite volcanic area near Naples, Italy, show that temperature changes reached more than -3 degrees Celsius in some places in the first year after the event. Judging by the available data about ash dispersal and acid deposits, the most significant temperature anomalies, those of more than -4 degrees, occurred in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, while those in Western Europe were only between -2 and -4 degrees.

While this is not likely to have caused the demise of the Neanderthals, it may have been a factor in the rise of modern humans, who were better prepared to face this challenge. Moreover, these eruptions were followed by more volcanic eruptions in the Caucasus. Analysis of 40,000 year-old sediments in a Russian cave has previously found that more volcanic ash was associated with less pollen, suggesting a decrease in the number of herbivores. Neanderthals mainly subsisted on herbivores.

The decline of the Neanderthals had, however, already begun before these eruptions.

Neanderthals had different inner ear

March 27th, 2015

A 3D reconstruction of a 2-year old Neanderthal has revealed anatomical differences between Neanderthals and humans even in the smallest bones: specifically, the bones in the ear. It's not yet known what significance these differences might have for hearing.

The archaeological site at La Ferrassie has uncovered 7 Neanderthal skeletons, ranging from foetuses to almost complete skeletons of adults.

Neanderthal jewellery

March 21st, 2015

A museum curator, reviewing Neanderthal fossils from the Krapina site in Croatia, has identified eight white-tailed eagle talons and an associated phalanx as jewellery. The talons show numerous cut marks, polished facets and abrasions, suggesting they had been mounted into jewellery. They date back 130,000 years.

Neanderthal groups had some sexual division of labor

February 18th, 2015

A new study has concluded that Neanderthal communities divided some of their tasks according to their sex.

Analysis of 99 incisors and canine teeth of 19 Neanderthals from three different sites (El Sidron in Spain, L'Hortus in France, and Spy in Belgium), reveals that the dental grooves present in the female fossils follow the same pattern, which is different to that found in male individuals. This is thought to be the result of the mouth being used as a “third hand”, and suggests that males and females performed different tasks.

However, it's believed that this was probably limited to only a few tasks.

Neanderthals disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula first

February 5th, 2015

A new study pushes back the disappearance of Neanderthals in the Iberian peninsula to around 45,000 years ago.

Analysis of the ample record of lithic objects and remains of fauna at the El Salt archaeological site, 150km south of Valencia, plus extensive stratigraphic sequencing, has allowed the disappearance of the Neanderthals to be dated at a site that covers their last 30,000 years of existence.

The analysis points to a gradual diminuition of the population that coincided with a change in the climate creating colder and dryer conditions (the so-called Heinrich 5 event).

DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.06.002

Bone tool made by Neanderthals

January 16, 2015

A tool found at the Grotte du Bison, at Arcy-sur-Cure in Burgundy, France, shows the sophistication of Neanderthal culture. The tool is estimated to be between 55,000 and 60,000 years old, and is in exceptionally good condition for something so old. It was made from an adult reindeer femur, and appears to have been sharpened or used to sharpen something else. It is chipped and polished in a way that shows it was also used as a scraper.

The bone tool is thought to have been opportunistic. But its intentional modification into a multi-purpose tool speaks to the cognitive ability of its Neanderthal maker.

Neanderthals a separate species?

November 18th, 2014

New anatomical evidence supports the growing belief that Neanderthals were a distinct species separate from modern humans (Homo sapiens), and not a subspecies of modern humans.

The study looked at the entire nasal complex of Neanderthals, taking a different approach than previous studies, which compared Neanderthal nasal dimensions to modern human populations such as the Inuit and modern Europeans, whose nasal complexes are adapted to cold and temperate climates. Instead, it's suggested that the Neanderthals' upper respiratory tract functioned via a different set of rules as a result of a separate evolutionary history and overall cranial bauplan (bodyplan), resulting in a mosaic of features not found among any population of Homo sapiens.

The evidence follows research showing clear differences in vocal tract proportions of Neanderthals compared to modern humans.

Humans and Neanderthals interbred 10,000 years earlier

November 10, 2014

Ancient DNA recovered from Kostenki 14, an individual who died more than 36,000 years ago at the site of Kostenki in western-most Russia, shows that Neanderthal and modern human interbreeding occurred much earlier than previously believed—around 54,000 years ago. Additionally, it shows that modern European and East Asian populations were firmly established by 36,000 years ago.

The findings demonstrate that Europe and East Asia were colonized by moderns out of Africa almost simultaneously, following two very different paths, while the interbreeding between early Europeans and Neanderthals may have occurred very early in the spread of modern humans out of Africa, possibly as moderns were first migrating into the Near East.

Ancient human bone reveals when we bred with Neanderthals

October 24th, 2014

An anatomically modern male thigh-bone, found near the town of Ust'-Ishim in south-western Siberia, has been dated to around 45,000 years old, making the man the oldest modern human to be sequenced.

A comparison of his DNA sequence with other modern and ancient individuals reveals many mutations that are common across most of the world, but not in Africa, showing (unsurprisingly) that he descended from the pioneering group that moved from Africa to the Middle East. However, he doesn't carry many of the mutations marking the migrations that settled Europe and Asia, suggesting that he was part of a different northward migration from the Middle East.

The Ust'-Ishim man has a similar proportion of Neanderthal ancestry to today's non-Africans (around 2%), but the strands of Neanderthal DNA were on average three times longer than seen today, suggesting it was contributed 7,000 to 13,000 years earlier. In other words, it indicates that interbreeding occurred about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. This is much later than the bones found at Skhul and Qafzeh in Israel-Palestine, which showed a mixture of modern and Neanderthal traits.

The find narrows the window of time when humans and Neanderthals interbred to between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago (compared to the previous range of between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago), and shows that modern humans reached northern Eurasia substantially earlier than some scientists thought. His DNA shows him related equally to West European hunter-gatherers, North Asian hunter-gatherers, East Asians, and the indigenous people of the Andaman Islands off South Asia, suggesting that the population he was part of split from the ancestors of both Europeans and East Asians, prior to their divergence from each other.

The analysis also supports a slower mutation rate. Mutation rates in the human genome are used to help date key events in human evolution.

On the basis of this work, humans and Neanderthals separated between 550,000 and 770,000 years ago, rather than between 270,000 and 380,000 years ago, as a faster rate predicts.

It also pushes back the spread of humans outside Africa, indicating that the present-day subdivisions among human populations date back to almost 200,000 years ago, well before the 'cognitive revolution' around 50,000 years ago, when art and new styles of toolmaking emerged.

The latest findings suggest that the ancestors of modern Australians, who carry a similar amount of Neanderthal DNA to Europeans and Asians, are unlikely to have picked up their own Neanderthal DNA before 60,000 years ago, indicating that they were late, rather than early, dispersal through Neanderthal territory.… ans-global-trek.html

DOI: 10.1038/nature13810

Neanderthal abstract art found in Gibraltar cave

September 2, 2014

The oldest known example of abstract art has been discovered at Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar. The work, a series of criss-crossed lines cut into stone, is thought to have been carried out 40,000 years ago by Neanderthals. If so, it's the first known example of Neanderthal art.

The engravings appear to have been made with great effort, perhaps for ritual purposes, or as a form of communication.

Hundreds of stone tools were also found at the site, in undisturbed sediment dating back 39,000 years. The tools are made in a signature Neanderthal style of a type that has never been found at a modern human site. The engravings were covered in the sediment, indicating that they were older.

When the Neanderthals Disappeared

August 20, 2014

A large-scale dating effort of nearly 200 Neanderthal specimens from 40 sites across western Europe and Russia has narrowed the timing of the extinction of Neanderthals to a span of 2,000 years—between 39,000 and 41,000 years ago. They also show that Neanderthals disappeared at different times depending on the region. They found no evidence for a late survival in the Iberian peninsula, as has been thought.

From the findings, we can surmise that Neanderthals and early modern humans coexisted for about 2,600 to 5,400 years. However, no spatial overlap is evident. This is considered puzzling, because there is evidence that late-stage Neanderthals were culturally influenced by modern humans. Samples taken from some Neanderthal sites include artefacts that look like those introduced to Europe by humans migrating from Africa.

The timing of Neanderthals' disappearance from Eastern Europe, Siberia, and Asia remains to be tested.

Neanderthals were first bird eaters

August 7th, 2014

Close examination of 1,724 bones from rock doves, found at Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar and dated to between 67,000 and 28,000 years ago, have revealed cuts, human tooth marks and burns, suggesting they may have been butchered and then roasted. This is the first evidence of hominids eating birds.

The discarded remains from a time that the cave was occupied by Neanderthals challenges previous beliefs that modern humans were the first hominids to eat birds on a regular basis.

The scorch marks are not conclusive proof of cooking, as they could be from waste disposal or accidental burning.

Skull Collection Helps Explain Early Neanderthal Evolution

Analysis of 17 ancient skulls from a cave called Sima de los Huesos in the Atapuerca mountains in Spain, provides evidence of the early evolution of the Neanderthal lineage. The skulls show a combination of both Neanderthal and more ancient morphologies, and are estimated to be about 430,000 years old.

The finding means that the common ancestor of the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens must be older than 430,000 years, which is much older than previously considered. This new species may be a link between Neanderthals and Homo antecessor, who lived in Europe around a million years ago.

Some of the fossils were previously dated to more than 530,000 years ago and were considered to be those of Homo heidelbergensis. However, using more modern techniques, six distinct methods have converged on this new date. Seven of the fossils had never been studied before.

The closer analysis has also shown that the skulls, jaws, and teeth show many Neanderthal features (heavy brows, protruding noses, powerful mandibles and mouths that could open extremely wide, the patterns of cusps on the teeth) but don't have the large skulls or other robust skeletal features typically seen in Neanderthals. They are presumed to be a more primitive ancestor.

The constellation of features suggests that Neanderthal evolution may have been tied to an adaptive trait associated with chewing. The capacity of Neanderthal teeth and jaws suggests that the mouth could be considered as a third grasping organ.

Human skull has Neanderthal-like inner ear

July 8, 2014

A 100,000-year-old human skull found 35 years ago in Northern China has an inner-ear formation that was long thought only to occur in Neanderthals.

The presence of a particular arrangement of the semicircular canals in the temporal labyrinth has been considered enough to securely identify fossilized skull fragments as being from a Neanderthal. However, this skull was found along with an assortment of other human teeth and bone fragments, all of which seemed to have characteristics typical of an early non-Neanderthal form of late archaic humans.

The implications of this are not yet clear.

First direct evidence of plants in Neanderthal diet

June 25th, 2014

Human fecal remains from El Salt, a known site of Neanderthal occupation in southern Spain that dates back 50,000 years, has found traces of plants—the first direct evidence that Neanderthals may have enjoyed an omnivorous diet. The amounts suggest the Neanderthals, while having a mostly meat-based diet, may have also consumed a fairly regular portion of plants, such as tubers, berries, and nuts.

Neanderthal & modern Europeans share lipid genes

April 1, 2014

Genetic analysis has revealed that people of European descent have three times the number of Neanderthal-like sequences in genes related to fat breakdown in the brain compared to modern humans of East Asian and African descent.

Neanderthals were not less intelligent than modern humans

A review of the archaeological evidence of modern human's cognitive superiority over Neanderthals has found none. The review compared Neanderthals with modern humans who lived at the same time, rather than (as before) comparing them with humans who lived later, in the Upper Palaeolithic.

The researchers looked at various hypotheses that have been put forward to explain the Neanderthals' demise, such as their supposed lack of symbolic language, inferior capacity for innovation, inferior hunting ability, smaller social networks, and narrow diet. They found little difference between the two groups at the time they were co-existent.

Evidence from multiple archaeological sites suggests that Neanderthals hunted as a group, using the landscape to aid them. Recent evidence provides reason to believe that Neanderthals did in fact have a diverse diet. Ochre and ornaments found at Neanderthal sites suggest that they had cultural rituals and symbolic communication.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096424

DNA research confirms recent interaction between Neanderthals and humans

May 1st, 2014

A comparative statistical analysis of DNA from Neanderthals and humans rules out the theory that the Neanderthal DNA found in modern humans is a result of their shared ancestry hundreds of thousands years ago in Africa, and confirms that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred tens of thousands years ago, after they left Africa.

DOI: 10.1534/genetics.114.162396

Genetic testing shows Neanderthals less diverse than modern humans

April 22nd, 2014

Genetic testing on Neanderthal specimens from Spain, Croatia and southern Siberia indicates that Neanderthals were much less genetically diverse than modern humans, suggesting they lived in small groups and didn't tend to interact with other groups. It also showed that Neanderthals underwent more skeletal changes than modern humans, though modern humans underwent more pigmentation and apparent behavioral changes than did Neanderthals.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1405138111

Epigenetic differences between modern humans & Neanderthals

17 April 2014

Analysis of the epigenomes of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan has revealed variations that might account for their differences in body shape and susceptibility to some modern neurological diseases.

There's little difference in the genomes of humans and Neanderthals — fewer than 100 proteins differ in their amino acid sequence. However, DNA sequences alone give little indication of whether the gene was active or not. DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification that typically turns off a gene. However, mapping methylation patterns is destructive and can't therefore be applied to the precious remains we have.

A new technique uses information from the way the methyl chemical cytosine decays over long periods of time to infer ancient methylation patterns.

Around 2000 locations in the archaic genomes showed methylation patterns that differed from those in modern human bone DNA, with one area standing out: a cluster of genes called the HOXD genes, which are important in limb development, and in a gene called MEIS1 that encodes a protein that controls the activity of the HOXD genes. This may explain why these ancient species had shorter, stouter limbs and a more robust bone structure.

Additionally, a third of the highly methylated regional areas that appear in modern humans but not in Neanderthals or Denisovans, are regions that have been associated with neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

DOI: 10.1126/science.1250368

Neanderthal kids had hands-on parents

April 10, 2014

Examination of Neanderthal burials suggests that children played a particularly significant role in their society, particularly in symbolic expression.

Parents cared for their sick and injured children for months and often years. The study of child burials reveals that the young may have been given particular attention when they died, with generally more elaborate graves than older individuals.

Neanderthals may have faced extinction long before modern humans emerged

February 24th, 2014

New research suggests that Western European Neanderthals were on the verge of extinction long before modern humans showed up.

A study of ancient DNA from 13 Neanderthal individuals, including a new sequence from the site of Valdegoba cave in northern Spain, has found that Neanderthals from Western Europe that were older than 50,000 years and individuals from sites in western Asia and the Middle East showed a high degree of genetic variation, similar to that of modern humans. However, Neanderthal individuals from Western Europe that were younger than 50,000 years show an extremely reduced amount of genetic variation, less even than the present-day population of remote Iceland.

These results suggest that Western European Neanderthals went through a demographic crisis before modern humans reached Europe, leaving Western Europe largely empty of humans for a period of time. The demographic crisis seems to coincide with a period of extreme cold. Subsequently, this region was repopulated by a small group of individuals from a surrounding area.

DOI: 10.1093/molbev/mss074

Neanderthal lineages excavated from modern human genomes

January 29

A new approach applied to analyzing whole-genome sequencing data from 665 people from Europe and East Asia shows that more than 20% of the Neanderthal genome survives in the DNA of this group.

Previous research indicates that someone of non-African descent may have inherited approximately 1-3% of their genome from Neanderthal ancestors. These archaic DNA sequences can vary from one person to another and were aggregated in the present study to determine the extent of the Neanderthal genome remaining in the study group as a whole.

Many of the Neanderthal genes still found in humans are involved in making keratin, a protein used in skin, hair and nails. Reich speculates that modern humans may have picked up Neanderthal genes that were better suited to the cold environment, perhaps because they produced more or thicker hair, or tougher skin.

Even more striking are those genes in humans that are devoid of Neanderthal DNA sequences. Notable is the lack of Neanderthal DNA in a region of human genomes that contains a gene for a factor thought to play an important role in human speech and language. There are also very few Neanderthal genes in modern men's testes, and the X chromosome. That suggests males with Neanderthal and modern human parents were infertile, because the males would never get to pass on their single Neanderthal X chromosome.

In other words, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were on the edge of biological compatibility, and the traces left in our genome have mostly come down through the female line.

Genetic comparison of Neanderthals, Denisovans, modern humans

The most complete sequence to date of the Neanderthal genome, using DNA extracted from a woman's toe bone found in a cave in Denisova, Siberia, and dating back 50,000 years, reveals a long history of interbreeding among at least four different types of early humans living in Europe and Asia at that time.

The genomes of the Altai Neanderthal, a Denisovan, a number of modern humans, and Neanderthals from Croatia and the Caucasus mountains, were compared.

The comparison shows that Neanderthals and Denisovans are very closely related, and that their common ancestor split off from the ancestors of modern humans about 400,000 years ago. Neanderthals and Denisovans split about 300,000 years ago.

Denisovans also left genetic traces in modern humans, though only in some Oceanic and Asian populations. Previous research has found that the genomes of Australian aborigines, New Guineans and some Pacific Islanders are about 6% Denisovan. The new analysis finds that the genomes of Han Chinese and other mainland Asian populations, as well as of native Americans, contain about 0.2% Denisovan genes.

The genome comparisons also show that Denisovans interbred with another group of early humans living in Eurasia at the time. That group had split from the others more than a million years ago, so may have been Homo erectus.

The Neanderthal woman was highly inbred, being the daughter of a very closely related mother and father. This may have been common in Neanderthals, as their population sizes shrank.

At least 87 specific genes in modern humans were identified as significantly different from related genes in Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Neanderthals buried their dead

December 16th, 2013

Neanderthal remains first discovered in 1908 at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southwestern France have been the subject of some controversy, with some believing the site marked a burial ground while others felt the burial may not have been intentional. Since then, however, excavations of seven other caves in the area have uncovered more Neanderthal remains—two children and one adult—along with bones of bison and reindeer.

Subsequent re-examination of the remains found in 1908 has found that, in contrast to the reindeer and bison remains at the site, the Neanderthal remains contained few cracks, no weathering-related smoothing, and no signs of disturbance by animals. All this suggests that they were covered soon after death, strongly supporting the conclusion that Neanderthals buried their dead.

New evidence suggests Neanderthals organized their living spaces

Dec. 3, 2013

Excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in northwest Italy where both Neanderthals and, later, early humans lived for thousands of years, has found that in the three levels used by Neanderthals, different areas were used for different activities. The top level was used as a task site – likely a hunting stand - where they could kill and prepare game. The middle level was a long-term base camp and the bottom level was a shorter term residential base camp.

The middle level had the densest traces of human occupation, with animal bones and stone tools concentrated at the front rather than the rear of the cave. A hearth was in back of the cave about half a meter to a meter from the wall.

The bottom level, thought to represent a short-term base camp, is the least well known because it was exposed only over a very small area. More stone artifacts were found immediately inside the shelter's mouth, suggesting tool production may have occurred inside the part of the site where sunlight was available.

Shellfish fragments and ochre were found in all the levels.

Archaeologists rediscover the lost home of the last Neanderthals

October 17th, 2013

A key archaeological site has preserved geological deposits which were thought to have been lost through excavation 100 years ago. The site, at La Cotte de St Brelade cave on Jersey, has produced more Neanderthal stone tools than the rest of the British Isles put together, and contains the only known late Neanderthal remains from North West Europe.

The sediments have now been dated to between 100,000 and 47,000 years old, indicating that Neanderthal teeth which were discovered at the site in 1910 were younger than previously thought, and probably belonged to one of the last Neanderthals to live in the region.

Neanderthals may have made a meal of animal stomachs

October 17th, 2013

Evidence of bitter root plants found on Neanderthal teeth may point to a practice of eating the stomach contents of their prey.

Previous research has suggested that the presence of bitter and nutritionally-poor camomile and yarrow residue on the plaque of 50,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth hints at plants being consumed for medicinal purposes. But now it's been suggested that the plant compounds could be from the part-digested stomach contents (chyme) of hunted animals.

This is a practice still carried out by many cultures, including Australian Aborigines and Greenland Inuit. In harsh conditions, such as desert or tundra, eating animal stomach contents allows people to gain nutrients from plants they could not easily obtain otherwise.

Neanderthals used toothpicks to ease gum inflammation

October 17th, 2013

Removing food scraps trapped between the teeth one of the most common functions of using toothpicks. This habit is documented in the genus Homo, as early as Homo habilis. New research based on the Cova Foradà Neanderthal fossil shows that this hominid also used toothpicks to mitigate pain caused by oral diseases such as inflammation of the gums.

The chronology of the fossil is not clear, but the fossil remains were associated with a Neanderthal Mousterian lithic industry (about 150,000 to 50,000 years). The remains showed clear signs of periodontal disease, as well as grooves caused by toothpicking.

Link between Neanderthals and humans is still missing

October 22, 2013

Analysis of fossils of some 1,200 molars and premolars from 13 species or types of hominins has failed to find any that fit the expected profile of an ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans.

Moreover, the potential human ancestors discovered in Europe are morphologically closer to Neanderthals than to modern humans. This suggests the line leading to Neanderthals arose around 1 million years ago and the divergence of humans took place much earlier than previously thought.

More than 15% of the fossils came from the well-known Atapuerca sites.

Neanderthals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe

Neanderthal bone tools found at two neighboring Paleolithic sites in southwest France (Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l'Azé I) are unlike any others previously found in Neanderthal sites, but they are similar to a tool type well known from later modern human sites and still in use today by high-end leather workers. This tool, called a lissoir or smoother, is shaped from deer ribs and has a polished tip that, when pushed against a hide, creates softer, burnished and more water resistant leather.

The tools found at Abri Peyrony range from nearly 48,000 to 41,000 years ago, thus beginning before the earliest known modern human occupation of Western Europe, while that from Pech-de-l’Azé is dated to about 51,000 years ago.

These dates suggest that modern humans acquired this technology from Neanderthals. Modern humans seem to have entered Europe with pointed bone tools only, and soon after started to make lissoirs.

These are not the first Neanderthal bone tools, but up to now their bone tools looked like stone tools and were made with stone knapping percussive techniques.

The tools were found in deposits containing typical Neanderthal stone tools and the bones of hunted animals including horses, reindeer, red deer and bison. Both sites have only evidence of Neanderthals.

Who was eating salmon 45,000 years ago in the Caucasus?

September 17th, 2013

The argument that Neanderthals were rigid in their dietary choice, targeting large herbivorous mammals, while modern humans exploited a wider diversity of dietary resources, including fish, is challenged by indirect evidence of fish consumption by Neanderthals at a cave in the Caucasus Mountains.

The cave, called Kudaro 3, has revealed bone fragments of large salmon dated to around 42 to 48,000 years ago. Analysis of the bones of Asiatic cave bears and cave lions found in the cave shows that the cave bears were purely vegetarian, while the cave lions were predators of herbivores from arid areas.

Handaxe design reveals distinct Neanderthal cultures

August 19th, 2013

Analysis of 1,300 stone tools originating from 80 Neanderthal sites in five European countries (France, Germany, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands) has found evidence that two separate handaxe traditions or designs existed – one in a region now spanning south-western France and Britain – the other in Germany and further to the East. In addition, she found an area covering modern day Belgium and the Netherlands that demonstrates a transition between the two.

Neanderthals in the western region made symmetrical, triangular and heart-shaped handaxes, while during the same time period, in the eastern region, they produced asymmetrically shaped bifacial knives.

Why did the Neanderthals die out?

Results from the five-year research programme, Reset (Response of humans to abrupt environmental transitions), show that modern humans arrived 45,000 years ago, much earlier than previously estimated, while Neanderthals were pretty much gone only 5,000 years later, which is 10,000 years earlier than previously estimated.

It's been speculated that the eruption of the Campi Flegrei volcano west of Naples 39,000 years ago may have been a factor in the Neanderthals' demise. This was the biggest volcanic eruption in Europe in 200,000 years, and may have had a catastrophic impact. However, this new dating suggests the Neanderthals may have already gone by then.

More accurate dates for Neanderthals in Spain

April 2nd, 2013

El Sidrón cave in Asturias (northern Spain) is one of the westernmost Neanderthal sites on the Iberian Peninsula and contains a large amount of Neanderthal remains and flint tools. New techniques have now confirmed that the Neanderthals from the Asturian cave lived some 49,000 years ago (between 45,200 and 51,600 years old).

The new date was independently agreed by two different laboratories using different techniques.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2012.00671.x

DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2009.00671.x

Neanderthal brawn lost out to social human brain

March 13th, 2013

A comparison of the skulls of 32 Homo sapiens and 13 Neanderthals recently found the Neanderthals that significantly bigger eye sockets — an adaptation perhaps to the long, dark nights and winters of Europe. They also had bigger bodies. While Neanderthals had brains as big as Homo sapiens (in fact, slightly larger), more of the brain would have been devoted to vision and body control.

It's suggested that all this meant they had less brain space to dedicate to social networking, giving them a disadvantage compared to Homo sapiens.

Did Neanderthals die out before modern humans arrived?

February 4th, 2013

Previous dating of bone fossils found at Neanderthal sites in Spain put the youngest at about 36,000 years, but re-examination using an improved method to filter out contamination has concluded that the remains are more than 45,000 years old, with some older than 50,000 years (the practical limit of carbon dating).

Humans aren't believed to have settled in the region until 42,000 years ago.

However, bones from only two of the 11 known Neanderthal sites in Spain could be tested with the new method. Bone collagen doesn’t preserve well at the the warmer sites where the last Neanderthals might have lived. New techniques that don't rely on carbon are needed to confirm these results.

The new techniques have previously revealed that humans reached Britain more than 40,000 years ago — some 10,000 years earlier than was thought.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1207656110

Neanderthals manufactured Châtelperronian amid cultural diffusion with humans

October 30th, 2012

It has long been debated whether the Châtelperronian (CP), a transitional industry from central and southwestern France and northern Spain, was manufactured by Neanderthals or modern humans. Now new analysis techniques on 40 well-preserved bone samples from the Grotte du Renne in France and one bone from neighboring Saint Césaire, show that the CP bone tools and body ornaments were produced by Neanderthals.

The CP phase at the Grotte du Renneis has been dated to between 44,500 and 41,000 years ago and the CP Neanderthal skeleton of Saint-Césaire to around 41,500 years ago. This confirms that Neanderthal populations are directly responsible for the production of CP assemblages in central France, including the body ornaments of Arcy.

Because modern humans replaced the last known European Neanderthals starting around 50,000 years ago and were already present in Southern France and in Germany when Neanderthals produced the CP, it's suggested that Neanderthals made sophisticated bone tools and body ornaments only after modern humans introduced these new behaviors.

Eastern Eurasian archaic humans share nasal feature with Neanderthals

October 17th, 2012

An assessment of nasal floor configurations have found that maxillae of archaic Homo from eastern Eurasia mostly (3 out of 4) show the bi-level pattern seen in western Eurasian Neanderthals, while early modern humans from eastern Eurasia mostly exhibit the level floor pattern predominant among early and recent modern human populations. This suggests that bi-level nasal floors were common among Pleistocene archaic humans, and a high frequency of them is not distinctive of the Neanderthals as thought before.

It may be that nasal floor configuration is more an effect of facial size.

DOI: 10.1537/ase.120709

Dating encounters between modern humans and Neanderthals

October 4th, 2012

New estimates of the date when Neanderthals and modern Europeans last shared ancestors suggests that it occurred when modern humans carrying Upper Paleolithic technologies encountered Neanderthals as they expanded out of Africa, between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago, well after modern humans appeared outside Africa but potentially before they started spreading across Eurasia.

The analysis is based on the length of DNA pieces in the genomes of Europeans that are similar to Neanderthals.


Neanderthals used feathers to adorn themselves

September 19th, 2012

A review of the available evidence regarding wing bones has concluded that it appears likely that Neanderthals did use long wing feathers as a means of adornment.

To find evidence of feather adornment, the researchers first looked at the massive amount of data that has been collected on both birds and Neanderthals, specifically regarding their geography and whether birds with long feathers even lived in the areas where Neanderthals roamed. In all, they studied data from 1,699 sites across Eurasia and found that there was indeed a correlation and that there appeared to be a lot of raptor and corvid species living in the same areas as Neanderthals.

The review found many of the bird bones found around or near Neanderthal archeological finds were wing bones that had been manipulated with sharp stones, causing cutting marks, a clear indication that they had been used for some purpose other than as food as wings don't have any meat on them. They noted also that the Neanderthals appeared to have a preference for birds with dark feathers. Moreover, the large number of bones, the variety of species processed and the different temporal periods when the behaviour is observed, indicate that this was a systematic, geographically and temporally broad, activity that the Neanderthals undertook.


Neanderthal’s brawny arm hints at language

August 24, 2012

New analysis of the “Regourdou” Neanderthal skeleton, discovered in 1957 in France, roughly 900 yards away from the famous Lascaux Cave, has confirmed earlier speculations that the man was right-handed.

This finding means that 89% of European Neanderthal fossils (16 of 18) showed clear preference for their right hands—about the same proportion found in humans today.

Handedness signals brain lateralization. In modern humans, the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body and also plays a primary role for language. It's therefore speculated that this might be a sign of language abilities in Neanderthals.

Doubts about whether modern humans and Neanderthals interbred

August 13th, 2012

New research raises questions about the theory that modern humans and Neanderthals at some point interbred. The analysis suggests that common ancestry, not hybridisation, better explains the average 1-4% DNA that those of European and Asian descent share with Neanderthals.

The scientists say previous analyses have over-estimated the amount of shared DNA between Neanderthals and humans that could be explained by interbreeding, because they did not take into account the genetic variation already present between different populations of the ancestors of modern humans in Africa.

Taking into account differences between ancestral populations within the African continent, the new analysis concludes that modern humans and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor some 500,000 years ago (perhaps Homo heidelbergensis), and that this is sufficient to explain the shared DNA remaining in modern humans.

However, the scientist who led the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome expressed surprise at the research, saying that they did indeed note that this shared ancestry was a factor, but that their work suggests that the last gene flow from Neanderthals to modern humans likely occurred 37,000-86,000 years before the present, and most likely 47,000-65,000 years ago.

Invisible volcanic ash gives clues to Neanderthal demise

August 6th, 2012

Cryptotephra is a fine volcanic glass that is blasted out of erupting volcanoes along with ash. Invisible to the human eye, it leaves behind a hidden layer in the earth. About 40,000 years ago, a layer of cryptotephra particles carpeted a huge area of Central and Eastern Europe after a massive volcanic eruption in Italy called the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI).

This eruption, and the resulting environmental and climatic disruption, has been suggested as a factor in the extinction of the Neanderthals. It's been estimated that the ash and chemicals released into the atmosphere cooled the Northern Hemisphere by as much as 2°C for up to 3 years.

New techniques to detect cryptotephra have revealed that the CI cryptotephra lies above, and so is younger than, the layers where modern human stone tools began to replace Neanderthal stone tools, in 4 central European sites.

This means that the Italian eruption happened after the Neanderthals had already declined and so it couldn't have been the cause of their extinction.

Moreover, analysis of tree pollen and marsh and marine sediments have confirmed that the eruption occurred at the same time as the Heinrich event — a cold snap that has also been hypothesized to be a factor in the Neanderthals' demise.

Neanderthal muscles due to scraping, not spearing

July 18, 2012

Muscle measurements of modern men performing three different spear thrusting tasks and four different scraping tasks reveal that the unique arm morphology in Neanderthals was likely caused by scraping activities such as hide preparation, not spear thrusting as previously theorized.

The finding suggests that much of their time was spent performing non-hunting tasks, such as preparing the skins of large animals.


Neanderthals ate their greens

18 July 2012

Analysis of teeth plaque from Neanderthals from the El Sidrón Cave in northern Spain has revealed that plants were not only an important part of their diet but that those plants were roasted, and may have been used medicinally.

The plaque contained a range of carbohydrates and starch granules, hinting that the Neanderthals had consumed a variety of plant species. By contrast, there were few lipids or proteins from meat. Additionally, a range of alkyl phenols, aromatic hydrocarbons and roasted starch granules suggested that the Neanderthals had spent time in smoky areas and eaten cooked vegetables.

Chemicals from plants such as yarrow and camomile, which taste bitter and have no nutritional value, may be evidence of medicinal use.

Could Neanderthals have painted?

June 14, 2012

Dating deposits of calcite that had built up over 50 works of art in 11 caves has found that one painting of a red disk found at El Castillo cave on the Pas river in northern Spain is at least 40,800 years old. An ancient hand stencil found at Tito Bustillo Cave is at least 37,300 years old and a club-shaped symbol at the famous Altamira Cave seems to be more than 35,600 years old.

The dates are minimum, because we can't know how long it was before the calcite formed over the paintings.

This makes these the oldest known paintings in Europe, and, given that modern humans entered Europe between 42,000 and 41,000 years ago, raises the possibility that Neanderthals might have made them.

Largest group of fossil humans are Neanderthals after all

June 13th, 2012

The fossil and DNA evidence from La Sima de los Huesos, in Atapuerca, northern Spain, has yielded more than 6,000 fossils from about 28 individuals. Originally identified as Homo heidelbergensis, and estimated to be about 600,000 years old, a new review concludes that the fossils belong to early Neanderthals, and therefore must be much younger.

Analysis since the original discovery has shown that the skulls, jaws, teeth and skeletons how many Neanderthal features.

Dating the fossils has been tricky because they are too old to be radiocarbon dated. The very first estimate was that they were 350,000 years old. The older date was based on the dating of a stalagmite found just above the remains.

Did humans out-populate Neanderthals?

july 28, 2011

A meta-analysis of 164 archaeological sites that date to the period when modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped in the Dordogne region of southwest France, indicates that the modern-human population grew so rapidly that it overwhelmed Neanderthals with its sheer numbers.

Because not all the archaeological sites in the study contained clearly identifiable remains of modern humans or Neanderthals, the identification of a site as belonging to Neanderthals or modern humans was based on the type of tools found.

Were European Neanderthals almost extinct long before humans showed up?

March 26th, 2012

New research suggests that Western European Neanderthals were on the verge of extinction long before modern humans showed up.

Mitochondrial DNA sequences from 13 Neanderthal individuals, including a new sequence from the site of Valdegoba cave in northern Spain, has found that Neanderthal individuals from western Europe that were older than 50,000 years and individuals from sites in western Asia and the Middle East showed a high degree of genetic variation, on par with what might be expected from a species that had been abundant in an area for a long period of time. In fact, the amount of genetic variation was similar to what characterizes modern humans as a species. In contrast, Neanderthal individuals that come from Western Europe and are younger than 50,000 years show an extremely reduced amount of genetic variation, less even than the present-day population of remote Iceland.

These results suggest that western European Neanderthals went through a demographic crisis, a population bottleneck that severely reduced their numbers, leaving Western Europe largely empty of humans for a period of time. The demographic crisis seems to coincide with a period of extreme cold in Western Europe. Subsequently, this region was repopulated by a small group of individuals from a surrounding area. The geographic origin of this source population is currently not clear, but it may be possible to pinpoint it further with more Neanderthal sequences in the future.

doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss074

Neanderthals took to boats before modern humans

March 1st, 2012

Stone tools uniquely associated with Neanderthals have been found on islands in the Mediterranean Sea, suggesting that Neanderthals figured out how to travel by boat.

The stone “mousterian” tools have been found on the islands of Zakynthos, Lefkada and Kefalonia, which range from five to twelve kilometers from mainland Greece. Similar tools have also been found on the island of Crete.

The tools are believed to date back 100,000 years. … .2012.01.032

Neanderthals and their contemporaries engineered stone tools

January 24th, 2012

Anthropologists have long debated the significance of a group of stone age artifacts manufactured by at least three prehistoric hominin species, including the Neanderthals. These artifacts, collectively known as ‘Levallois’, were manufactured across Europe, Western Asia and Africa as early as 300,000 years ago.

Levallois artifacts are flaked stone tools described as ‘prepared cores’. However, the question of whether they were consciously and deliberately made has been controversial.

Now, an experimental study, in which a modern-day flintknapper replicated hundreds of Levallois artifacts, supports the notion that Levallois flakes were indeed engineered by prehistoric hominins. Statistical analysis shows that Levallois flakes removed from these types of prepared cores are significantly more standardised than the flakes produced incidentally during Levallois core shaping. The study also identified the specific properties of Levallois flakes that would have made them preferable to past mobile hunter-gathering peoples.

Since mobile hunter-gatherers can only carry a fixed number of tools, it is paramount that the potential usefulness of their tools is optimised relative to their weight. The new analyses indicated that Levallois flakes appear to optimise their utility in a variety of ways relative to other flakes. … pone.0029273

Evidence of red ochre use by Neanderthals 200,000 years ago

January 24th, 2012

Excavations in the Netherlands have unearthed flint and bone fragments from 200,000 to 250,000 years ago that have remnants of red ochre on them, indicating that Neanderthals were using the material much earlier than was previously thought.

The use of manganese and iron oxides by late Neanderthals is well documented for the period 60–40,000 years ago.

The ochre is not thought to be native to the area, meaning the Neanderthals would have had to find it at some other remote location and transport it back.

Modern hunter-gatherer peoples use red ochre as an insect repellant, as a means of preserving food, a type of medication and as a means of tanning hides.

The time frame of the use of ochre by Neanderthals now coincides with the earliest use of ochre by Homo sapiens in Africa.

doi: 10.1073/pnas.1112261109

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

How to think like a Neandertal

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 article no longer available, but can still be seen here:

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. (academic journal article)

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.