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Homo neanderthalensis

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Homo neanderthalensis, colloquially Neanderthal, is the first fossil humanoid to be identified as such, and the best known, named after remains found in the Neander Valley in western Germany in 1856. Homo neanderthalensis was found throughout Europe, the Near East, and the remainder of the Old World. Neanderthals existed in variant forms, during the late Middle and Upper Pleistocene, circa 250,000 to 30,000 years ago. Within western Europe the remains are associated with the Middle Paleolithic Mousterian stone tool industries, which disappeared with the arrival of Cro-magnon man (colloquial term for "Early European Modern Humans").[1]


Neanderthal (left) and modern human (right) skeletons, showing both the similarities and the differences between the species.

A Neanderthal was a fully erect biped of stocky build, with a long low skull, prominent brow ridges and occiputs, and a jutting face.

Neanderthals were on average significantly more muscular than H. sapiens and lacked a chin. They were social beings living in small tribes. Like the H. sapiens of their time, Neanderthals also possessed the skull features commonly considered to be required for speech.[2]

The popular impression of them as a stooping brute is incorrect and derives from the original poor reconstruction in the Neander valley. It has also been suggested that the first individual found suffered from vitamin D deficiency (rickets) or syphilis.

Neanderthals have been found to have possessed a grip specialized for gripping tools with handles, like spears or axes, and less so for precision. They still possessed precision grips, befitting a member of the genus Homo, but they would've had considerable more difficulty picking up a coin than a modern human would.[3]


Modern reconstruction of Neanderthal men.

Neanderthals were not considered to be a direct ancestor of modern humans, as they were an evolutionary dead end. However, a recent genome sequencing study suggests that Neanderthals may have interbred somewhat with H. sapiens, with the effect that modern Eurasian and North African populations, but not sub-Saharan African populations, have between 1 and 4% Neanderthal genes.[4] Later, more recent studies have refined that broad estimate to a much smaller 1-2% Neanderthal ancestry in modern humans, with East Asians and Oceanians having somewhat higher levels of Neanderthal ancestry than Europeans, Middle Easterners, and Central Asians.[5] Past studies have suggested that East Asians have approximately 20% more Neanderthal ancestry compared to Europeans. But the new findings suggest that these estimates may have been biased due to methodological limitations.[6]

H. neanderthalensis also had an average brain size of 1,450cc with a range from 1,125cc to 1,750cc. The average modern H. sapiens brain size today is 1,330cc.

Presumably Neanderthals needed this extra brain mass to control their large muscle mass as well as process visual stimuli from their large eyes.

Many Neanderthal fossils have been recovered, showing massive amounts of wear on the teeth, which to many physical anthropologists suggests that the teeth were regularly used for gripping skins during stretching and working.[7]


Neanderthals were about as intelligent as an average modern human. They were social beings living in small tribes, like the modern humans of their time, although studies suggest that Neanderthal tribes interacted less with each other than modern human tribes did[8]. Archeological evidence suggests they were much more xenophobic and dogmatic than modern humans, although they were of similar capabilities.

Tool use/Technology[edit]

  • Fire and Food - Neanderthals had the ability to use fire, and for food they were hunter-gatherers. While there is a popular conception that Neanderthals were primarily hunters, recent finds challenge that view. Among them include finds from Spain that indicate a particular group of Neanderthals, based on dental tartar, primarily foraged for moss, mushrooms, and other plant foods, indicating this particular group was composed of forest foragers.[9] Neanderthals were also avid consumers of marine resources, including marine mammals such as dolphins and seals.[10] Neanderthals also possessed the ability to cook their meals, and evidently did so, employing such methods of cooking as smoking and roasting.[11]
  • Stone working - Neanderthals used the soft hammer percussion method for chipping stones.[note 1] They did have one tool, a curved bladed hand tool, that was exceptionally complex to cut.[note 2][12].
  • Weapons - It is largely accepted that Neanderthals never invented projectile weapons, but relied on spears with limited range even when facing large animals. However, two recent finds[note 3] have led to a suggestion that the choice of weapon was not due to lack of technology, but effectiveness of the weapon. Their robust bodies enabled them to use this hunting style, which was considered far too dangerous by humans.[13] A common hunting technique was to drive prey animals off a cliff, or corner them and finish them off with spears, much as today's Pygmies hunt elephants.
  • Clothing - Neanderthals had the technology to lace furs and skins together for clothing.
  • Medicine - Evidence of care for the elderly and the sick has been found.[14] They also used medicinal plants.
  • Cave dwelling - Finds in Bruniquel CaveWikipedia in France show they were capable of living in deep caves where they constructed large rings of broken stalagmites for unknown purposes. These would require technology and social structure to maintain light deep underground and manage the construction of stone circles.[15][16]
  • Fibres - Neanderthals were recently found to have made twine, which is also coincidentally the oldest piece of string found in the archaeological record.[17]


There is evidence that Neanderthals performed burial rituals, suggesting some sort of religion.[18] However, those rituals are nowhere near as elaborate as their modern human counterparts. Furthermore, modern day atheists by and large also participate in burial rituals and arrange for their own funeral, indicating that there is not necessarily a direct connection between burial rituals and religion. Neanderthals may have also practiced ritual defleshing, but this may have also been cannibalism[19], although modern humans practiced both cannibalism and ritual defleshing[note 4].


Handcrafted art made by Neanderthals has been found.[20] The world's oldest cave paintings found in Spain also seem to have been made by Neanderthals, dating back a whopping 64,000 years ago.[21]


Whether or not Neanderthals had language is debated. It is nearly impossible to prove one way or the other, because there would be no record of language until writing came into use. Circumstantial support includes: the similarity of the FoxP2 gene to modern human's FoxP2,[note 5] the complexity of tools which would require long training sessions to obtain and improve the techniques, existence of the hyoid bone, as well as an enlarged hypoglossal canal, which supports the nerve that controls the tongue. The hyoid was smaller than modern humans', suggesting that if they had speech their voices were higher-pitched than ours, contrary to how they're normally depicted. In addition, due to the shape of their noses they likely had very nasally voices, and because of their chests they likely had much more limited control of their vocalizations; everything they emitted would have been extremely loud. They were clearly incapable of the more complex speech patterns of modern humans and, as one can imagine, to human ears their vocalizations would be extremely irritating extremely fast.[22][23]


The last refuges of the Neanderthals.

Neanderthal man is thought to have developed from Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis, though the widespread distribution of intermediate form hinders an attempt to resolve any single geographical locality as the place of development. The fate of Neanderthals is equally hard to determine. We know they went extinct between 28,000 and 24,000 years ago[24], but we don't know how or why. Many theories have been presented, of which the most common are:

  • Climate changes.[25]
  • Competition with H. sapiens over resources.[26]
  • Their reliance on meat.[27] (Now obsolete, as seen above Neanderthals had much more varied diets than previously believed).
  • Assimilation into the larger human population.[28]
  • An interspecies war between H. sapiens and Neanderthals.[29]

It is likely that a combination of at least some of these factors led to the extinction of the Neanderthals, though a widespread interspecies war is probably a bit far-fetched. Of these, a combination of climate change and assimilation are the most likely answers according to recent studies, as there is evidence to indicate Neanderthals and modern humans lived side by side with each other without much competition (sometimes even sharing the same homes) for millennia.[30]

Creationist beliefs[edit]

Many young Earth Creationists believe that Neanderthals were "fully human"[31] beings (often along with Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, etc.). When Neanderthal fossils were first discovered in 1859, the creationists of the time replied that they were just ordinary human beings.[32]

Claims along these lines are aided by the murky definition of "species" itself. For example, while the most common designation of Neanderthals may be as a separate species, as Homo neanderthalensis, some do insist on labeling them merely as a subspecies, as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.[33] However even under the latter system modern humans are classified as Homo sapiens sapiens,[note 6] the point being that even if Neanderthals were so closely related to us that they don't merit their own separate species, they were still different from us. The recently-discovered fact that non-Africans are ever so slightly descended from Neanderthals doesn't change this.

Creationists have also claimed that the masses of Neanderthal fossils discovered were nothing more than people suffering from rickets.[34] At least one creationist believes the Neanderthals were the Nephilim described in Genesis 6:4.[35] Like many other creationist claims, this relies on serious fudging of the data surrounding carbon dating.

Old Earth creationists are somewhat less likely to minimize the differences between modern humans and Neanderthals, as their dogma is less constrictive on this topic.[36]


A few cryptozoologists believe that Neanderthals still live on as Bigfoot.[37] While it's arguable that Neanderthals do indeed still live on, in us, their descendants, Neanderthals were most definitely not hairy, primitive apes like the Bigfoot myth suggests. Rather they were fully human, albeit archaic. Suffice it to say this notion is complete bullshit.

Symbolic behavior[edit]

Until fairly recently, anthropologists and archaeologists dismissed any claims that Neanderthals may have possessed the capacity for symbolic behavior. However, Sarah Milliken used evidence that Neanderthals altered their living space, plus certain findings of Neanderthal art in Italy, to question such assumptions.[38] Another strong supporter of claims to Neanderthal symbolism is João Zilhãao, whose 2010 study of perforated shells in Iberia suggests a certain degree of modern behavior among Neanderthal groups.[39] Recent findings of Neanderthal sleeping sites have also contributed towards this trend.[40][41]

The world's oldest cave art has been dated back to 64kya in Spain, and since the only humans living in Western Europe at that time were Neanderthals, we have found that Neanderthals did indeed possess symbolic capabilities, as mentioned above in the in the art section of this article. Neanderthals also have been found to have made jewelry out of eagle talons.[42]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Hard bone on stone, rather than stone on stone techniques
  2. This tool was discovered years ago, but the technique to form it has only been studied in the last 10 years, after the image of Neanderthal as an intelligent being became more accepted.
  3. The first was a spear head, slightly smaller in size than the norm, embedded into a bone far more deeply than any others, and the second is a stash of what appear to be the shafts of projectiles found in Schoningen, Germany
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Sky burials. of Tibet to read further on it.
  5. The importance of FoxP2 on language development as been intensively studied for over 15 years
  6. Literally "wise wise man" - hubris at its finest.


  1. Thieme, Hartmut "Lower to Middle Paleolithic Hunting Spears, and Lithic Tool Traditions." Archaeology 13, 2003
  2. Neanderthal Myths Neanderthal, Channel 4 [1]
  3. "Neanderthals may have used their hands differently from modern humans" - CNN
  4. Richard E. Green et al. "A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome" [sic]. Science journal, May 2010.
  5. Higher levels of Neanderthal ancestry in East Asians than Europeans
  7. The Dawn of Human Culture Richard Klein, New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2002
  9. Weyrich, L. S.; Duchene, S.; Soubrier, J. (2017). "Neanderthal behaviour, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus". Nature 544 (7650): 357–361. Bibcode 2017Natur.544..357W. PMID 28273061. 
  10. Stringer, C. B.; Finlayson, J. C.; Barton, R. N. E. (2008). "Neanderthal exploitation of marine mammals in Gibraltar". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (38): 14319–14324. PMC 2567146. 
  11. Hardy, K.; Buckley, S.; Collins, M. J.; Estalrrich, A. (2012). "Neanderthal Medics? Evidence for Food, Cooking, and Medicinal Plants Entrapped in Dental Calculus". The Science of Nature 99 (8): 617–626. PMID 22806252. 
  13. Nova
  14. Neanderthals on Trial University of Minnesota, Duluth [2]
  15. Neanderthals Built Mysterious Stone Circles, National Geographic, May 25, 2016
  16. Jaubert, J., Verheyden, S., Genty, D. et al. Early Neanderthal constructions deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwestern France. Nature 534, 111–114 (2016) doi:10.1038/nature18291
  17. "Oldest piece of string found in ancient Neanderthal dwelling"
  18. The Shanidar IV 'Flower burial': a Re-evaluation of Neanderthal Burial Ritual [3]
  19. Neanderthal subsistence behaviors in Europe
  20. Neanderthal 'face' found in Loire BBC News[4]
  21. [5]
  24. Neanderthals' 'last rock refuge' BBC News [6]
  25. Climate Change Pushed Neanderthal Into Extinction In Iberian Peninsula [7]
  26. Did Use of Free Trade Cause Neanderthal Extinction? Newswise [8]
  27. Meaty appetites may have caused Neanderthal extinction Science & Spirit [9]
  28. The assimilation model, modern human origins in Europe and the extinction of Neanderthals Fred H. Smith, Ivor Jankovic, Ivor Karavanic [10]
  29. Odd man out: Neanderthals and modern Humans British Archaelogy [11]
  30. "Neanderthals and humans lived side-by-side"
  31. e.g. Neandertal DNA Research Confirms Full Human Status, from Jeffrey Tomkins of the ICR, 16 November 2012.
  32. Creationist Arguments: Neandertals, Talk.Origins, quoting creationist Gary Parker.
  33. Homo sapiens – modern humans, Australian Museum.
  34. Answers in Genesis
  36. All About Neanderthal: A Short Introduction, Old Earth Ministries.
  37. The Cryptid Zoo:Neanderthals and Neanderthaloids
  38. Milliken, S. (2007) Neanderthals, anatomically modern humans, and modern human behaviour in Italy
  39. Zilhao, J. (2010)Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals
  42. "Neanderthals found to have worn jewelry made out of eagle talons, new study finds"