The Neanderthal - Homo sapiens Neanderthal lived between 130,000 and 35,000 years ago
Homo sapiens Neanderthal lived between 130,000 and 35,000 years ago. Europe was the center of their range.
Some have been found as far south as Gibraltar, even down to Israel and the Near East. They were bordered on the
north by glaciers, on the south by the Mediterranean Sea, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean.
Height: Average around 5 foot 8 inches.
Fossils: Part of a skeleton - a thick skull cap and a number of arm and leg bones were uncovered in the Neander
Valley near Düsseldorf, Germany. Two more skeletons were found in a cave in Spy, Belgium.
Brain capacity: Neanderthal's brain on average was slightly larger than our own. However, everything about them
was big. Proportionally, their brain was roughly equivalent to modern humans.
During the 19th century, authorities commonly dismissed neanderthal as a "primitive brute," much too odd to be
an ancestor of mankind. Over the years conventional wisdom changed. The popular cliché became: Dress a
Neanderthal in a suit and he could go unnoticed through the streets of New York City. Perhaps he would be a bit
shorter than average; maybe his features would be a little on the heavy side. Squatter? Yes. More muscular than
most? Yes, indeed. But on the whole, he would blend in nicely.
Opinions have changed again on this sub-species. Paleontologists now believe Neanderthal was a very distinct group
designed for cold weather with their stout, pear-shaped bodies which reduced the lost of heat.
Their physique is completely opposite that of the rather slender Homo Erectus, who was much more at home in the
warmer climates. Surprisingly enough, Neanderthal is also strikingly different from early modern Homo sapien sapiens
who lived during the same period.
Artists have had a field day with Neanderthals. At times, they have been presented as primitive ape types; other times
they resembled modern humans. It depended on the whim of the artist and the audience he wished to please.
The truth is no one knows what neanderthals looked like; nor for that matter, what Homo erectus looked like; nor Homo
habilis; nor the australopithecines either. Fleshy parts have not been preserved. Leaving portraits aside, however, we do
know quite a few facts about neanderthal.
They were a formidable sub-species. We find sizable skeletons with thick arm and leg bones and good evidence of the
muscle power which moved them. Their limbs and joints were bigger, thicker, and more durable than Homo sapien bones.
Granted, those features might not draw much attention in a crowd today, but they had other characteristics which would
stand out as -- different. The hip sockets face sideways rather than forward. That feature suggests neanderthal neither
walked nor stood like a modern sapien.
It's hard to confuse a neanderthal face with a sapien, erectus, habilis or anything else. Their jaws and nose protrude,
and the noses are huge. Don Johanson tells us that the nose stuck out almost perpendicular to the rest of the face.
Their heads are long and narrow with a bulge in the occipital region, commonly called a "bun"; prominent brow ridges
over high, round eye sockets (Cro-Magnon's sockets were low and square); swept back cheekbones; and no bony chin.
Those are distinctions with a difference, but here is an oddity. We use our molars for crushing food, but evidently
neanderthal didn't chew like us. His front teeth are the ones with larger crowns and roots compared to his other teeth.
These front teeth are often eroded down to the roots in adult neanderthals. Researchers conclude neanderthal used his
front teeth for chewing.
Paleontologists have listed quite a few interesting facts about Homo sapien neanderthal. Their tool production, which
paleontologists label the Mousterian or Middle Stone Age, remained unchanged for their entire 100,000 year life span.
It is seen as a technological advancement over Homo erectus' Acheulian industry.
Johanson points out that neanderthal produced different flint tools for different purposes: "such as meat cutting, hide
scraping, and woodworking." Authorities think that they, like erectus, consumed quite a bit of meat. Some stone points
may have been fitted onto a wooden shaft and used as a spear. Impact fractures suggest their use as projectiles.
Judging by the numerous hearths in their caves, apparently, Neanderthal had learned the art of making fire. Fire pits
were found where they had roasted meat and wild peas. Paleontologists see signs of long term illnesses and injury in a
number of Neanderthal skeletons. That, they say, is ample proof this sub-species took care of each other when the need
arose. And neanderthals buried their dead. Inside of several of their caves, we have uncovered neanderthal skeletons
buried in flexed positions.
Did they speak? In Israel at a cave called Kebara, a 60,0000 year old almost complete skeleton was uncovered.
Among the bones was found a U-shaped hyoid bone which is very much like our own hyoid. That finding may indicate
Neanderthals were capable of speech.
The hyoid bone anchors muscles that connect to both the larynx and the tongue. The hyoid is an important part of our
physical anatomy which allows speech. Still, it's a matter of debate among the experts whether Neanderthal had a
The question remains: Who were the ancestors of neanderthal? And was this sub-species one of the direct ancestors
of Homo sapien sapiens? Or were they merely another dead end species? As for the first question, the fossil record has
It is a puzzle. Homo erectus was around before them, but they were dramatically at odds in physique. The "handy man"
Homo habilis supposably was extinct hundreds of thousands of years before Neanderthal arrived on the scene. Besides,
physically, habilis was even more distant from neanderthal than erectus. Consequently, neanderthals have no clear
What about their descendents? Therein lies a deep split among the prehistory scholars. The ones who argue against
neanderthal's inclusion in our ancestry seem to have the upper hand in the dispute.
Modern people do not share neanderthal's distinctive traits of a narrow-shaped head with protruding jaws and a
perpendicular nose, no chin, and a bun on the back of the skull. We don't chew with our incisor teeth, and our hip
sockets face forward rather than veering toward the side.
Since people today don't have those traits, we suspect they died along with Neanderthal. Moreover, since perfectly
normal-looking sapiens were already present during neanderthal's period, it's reasonable to conclude - they, not
Neanderthal, were our ancestors.
The degree of anatomical differences between modern humans and neanderthal has prompted some to question
Neanderthal's classification as a sub-species with sapiens. Paleontologist Yoel Rak believes neanderthal is a separate
species. Rak claims that the differences between Neanderthal and sapiens are greater than those found in chimpanzees,
which are divided into separate species, and in hyenas which are even given separate genena.
Species is commonly defined as groups of interbreeding natural populations that are reproductively isolated from other
such groups. Considering that neanderthals unique traits are no longer with us, evidently sapiens were not interbreeding
with neanderthals. Rak and other conclude we are looking at a separate species.
Then what can we make of neanderthal? Here we find a creature with a brain as large or larger than our own, walking
around on two feet. We find evidence that they hunted, knew the art of starting a fire, cooked meat and vegetables,
helped their sick and invalid, and buried their dead. Sounds very human, doesn't it? But yet, something is missing.
A major piece of the puzzle doesn't quite fit.
Homo sapien Neanderthal, we find, is an enigma, just as Homo erectus was before it. Both were stuck in a rut.
Although erectus lived over one, perhaps two million years and spread over three continents, his Acheulian stone
culture remained what it was. It varied little from place to place and didn't improve at all over time. From this and some
speculation about lack of breath control, paleontologists decided erectus couldn't speak. If they were exchanging ideas
on their stone techniques, we should expect some improvement over a couple of million years.
While it is true neanderthal wasn't around nearly as long as erectus, still 100,000 years is a very long time to go without
advances in their Mousterian stone kit. If Neanderthal's hyoid allowed him speech, his lack of progress becomes all the
more difficult to explain.
Unlike erectus with its mere 850 to 900 c.c brain capacity, we cannot dismiss Neanderthal's lack of innovation due to a
small brain. Evidently, there is more to being a human than just quantity of brains.
How does Neanderthal fit into evolution? It doesn't; it's another dead end. This group appears suddenly without any
known ancestors and leaves no obvious descendants. The experts don't even agree on how they should classify