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Homo neanderthalensis

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Homo neanderthalensis 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 him 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.


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.[3]

Whether Neanderthals did interbreed with H. sapiens, or if this was even possible, remains slightly speculative. So far the small amounts of Neanderthal DNA found may not suggest a recent genetic link between the species, according to some scientists,[4] and the trend in current research appears to be continuing in this direction[5] Other scientists of course disagree.[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 may have been about as intelligent as an average human. They were social beings living in small tribes, like the humans of their time, although studies suggest that Neanderthal tribes interacted less with each other than human tribes did[8]. Archeological evidence suggests they had less creativity and foresight than H. sapiens; they adopted more sophisticated tool sets from H. sapiens rather than developing them themselves, and seem not to have used much foreplanning for hunts, simply setting out to see what they could find.

Tool use/Technology[edit]

  • Fire - Neanderthals had the ability to use fire,[note 1] and for food they relied on hunting. They were predominantly carnivorous.[9]
  • Stone working - Neanderthals used the soft hammer percussion method for chipping stones.[note 2] They did have one tool, a curved bladed hand tool, that was exceptionally complex to cut.[note 3][10].
  • 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 4] 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.[11] 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. However, there is no evidence they possessed needles.
  • Medicine - Evidence of care for the elderly and the sick has been found.[12] They also used medicinal plants.
  • Cave dwelling - Finds in Bruniquel CaveWikipedia's W.svg 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.[13][14]


There is evidence that Neanderthals performed burial rituals, suggesting some sort of religion.[15] However, those rituals are nowhere near as elaborate as their modern human counterparts. It should furthermore be noted that 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[16], although modern humans practiced both cannibalism and ritual defleshing[note 5].


Interestingly, archaeologists have never found Neanderthal cave drawings, although handcrafted art has been found.[17]


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 6] 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.[18][19]


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[20], but we don't know how or why. Many theories have been presented, of which the most common are:

  • Climate changes.[21]
  • Competition with H. sapiens over resources.[22]
  • Their reliance on meat.[23]
  • Assimilation into the larger human population.[24]
  • An interspecies war between H. sapiens and Neanderthals.[25]

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.

Creationist beliefs[edit]

Many young Earth Creationists believe that Neanderthals were "fully human"[26] 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.[27]

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.[28] However even under the latter system modern humans are classified as Homo sapiens sapiens,[note 7] 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.[29] At least one creationist believes the Neanderthals were the Nephilim described in Genesis 6:4.[30] 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.[31]


A few cryptozoologists believe that Neanderthals still live on as Bigfoot.[32]

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.[33] 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.[34] Recent findings of Neanderthal sleeping sites have also contributed towards this trend.[35][36]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Not make, mind you. According to A Timetable of Inventions and Discoveries by Kevin Desmond, humans only found how to make fire 14 000 years ago. A more recent source, 1000 Inventions and Discoveries by Roger Bridgman and the Smithsonian, list the secret of making fire as being found a mere 9 000 years ago.
  2. Hard bone on stone, rather than stone on stone techniques
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Sky burials. of Tibet to read further on it.
  6. The importance of FoxP2 on language development as been intensively studied for over 15 years
  7. 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. Richard E. Green et al. "A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome" [sic]. Science journal, May 2010.
  4. Odd man out: Neanderthals and modern Humans British Archaeology [2]
  5. Discovery News
  7. The Dawn of Human Culture Richard Klein, New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2002
  9. Living like a NeanderthalNeanderthal, Channel 4 [3]
  11. Nova
  12. Neanderthals on Trial University of Minnesota, Duluth [4]
  13. Neanderthals Built Mysterious Stone Circles, National Geographic, May 25, 2016
  14. 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
  15. The Shanidar IV 'Flower burial': a Re-evaluation of Neanderthal Burial Ritual [5]
  16. Neanderthal subsistence behaviors in Europe
  17. Neanderthal 'face' found in Loire BBC News[6]
  20. Neanderthals' 'last rock refuge' BBC News [7]
  21. Climate Change Pushed Neanderthal Into Extinction In Iberian Peninsula [8]
  22. Did Use of Free Trade Cause Neanderthal Extinction? Newswise [9]
  23. Meaty appetites may have caused Neanderthal extinction Science & Spirit [10]
  24. The assimilation model, modern human origins in Europe and the extinction of Neanderthals Fred H. Smith, Ivor Jankovic, Ivor Karavanic [11]
  25. Odd man out: Neanderthals and modern Humans British Archaelogy [12]
  26. e.g. Neandertal DNA Research Confirms Full Human Status, from Jeffrey Tomkins of the ICR, 16 November 2012.
  27. Creationist Arguments: Neandertals, Talk.Origins, quoting creationist Gary Parker.
  28. Homo sapiens – modern humans, Australian Museum.
  29. Answers in Genesis
  31. All About Neanderthal: A Short Introduction, Old Earth Ministries.
  32. The Cryptid Zoo:Neanderthals and Neanderthaloids
  33. Milliken, S. (2007) Neanderthals, anatomically modern humans, and modern human behaviour in Italy
  34. Zilhao, J. (2010)Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals