Who were the Neanderthals?

Human evolution expert Prof Chris Stringer has studied the Neanderthal throughout his entire career. Here he tells us what scientists discovered about the lifestyle, distinctive features and what these early humans looked like.
We know more facts about Neanderthals than extinct humans. Thousands of artifacts and fossils have been found, including nearly completed skeletons.

We also know their genetic structure, as some Neanderthal genomes are reconstructed from ancient DNA obtained from their fossils.

Neanderthal facts

  • Species: Homo neanderthalensis
  • Lived: from about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago
  • Where: across Europe and southwest and central Asia
  • Appearance: large nose, strong double-arched brow ridge, relatively short and stocky bodies
  • Brain size: at least 1,200cm3 to 1,750cm3
  • Height: about 1.50-1.75m
  • Weight: about 64-82kg
  • Diet: meat, plants and fungi, shellfish when available
  • Species named in: 1864
  • Name meaning: ‘human from the Neander Valley’


Our closest ancient human relatives

Neanderthals were humans like us, but they were a distinct species called Homo neanderthalensis.
Common childhood illness may have killed off Neanderthals

Along with an Asian Human known as the Denisovans, Neanderthals are our closest ancient human relatives. Scientific evidence suggests that our two species share a common ancestor.

Available evidence from both fossils and DNA suggests that Neanderthal and modern human lineages diverged at least 500,000 years ago. Some genetic calibrations place their decomposition about 650,000 years ago.

Both fossil Anatomy and dating issues, the last common ancestors of Neanderthals and modern humans, scientists now say, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo antecessor, means it’s not sure whether it is type or another.

Neanderthals lived with early modern humans for at least part of their existence. Now we know some of the encounters were very intimate – some of us inherited

Neanderthals vs Homo sapiens

Since numerous Neanderthal fossils and artifacts have been found in the caves, the species has become synonymous with the caveman idea. But many ancient modern humans also lived in caves – some of the most famous examples being the original Cro-Magnon Man found in France and the Cheddar Man found in Gough’s cave and living in Somerset about 10,000 years ago.

Archaeological evidence suggests that some Neanderthals cared for their patients and buried their deaths, suggesting that they were social and even compassionate beings.

Cast of a Neanderthal burial in Kebara Cave, Israel, from around 60,000 years ago. The position of the upper limbs suggests the body was deposited in the grave before rigor mortis set in. The head is absent. Some scientists believe it was removed after burial, but we don’t know why.

Other important Neanderthal fossils

1 skull of Gibraltar
This skull belonged to a Neanderthal woman and was found in Forbes ‘Quarry in Gibraltar in 1848. It is the first adult Neanderthal skull ever found, although it was not recognized as such until reexamined after the identification of the Neander valley. skeleton.
Sima de los Huesos human remains
Since 1976, more than 6,500 human fossils have been recovered at Sima de los Huesos (‘pit of bones’) in Atapuerca in northern Spain. Human remains consist mostly of mangled partial or nearly complete skeletons of adolescents and young adults.

Sima skeletons were previously claimed to represent Homo heidelbergensis and are about 600,000 years old. However, it is now dated to about 430,000 years ago.

Current evidence suggests they were very early Neanderthals – they show a clear affinity to later Neanderthals in the details of their skull, face, jaws and especially teeth. Ancient DNA from the remains firmly places them in the Neanderthal genetic lineage in accordance with their morphology.


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