extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans who lived in Eurasia until about 40,000 years ago

The Neanderthal,[1] a species of the genus Homo, was a near relative of our own species. Its scientific name is Homo neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.[2]

Temporal range: Pleistocene
Skeleton in the American Museum of Natural History, Manhattan
Scientific classification
Neanderthal range

Neanderthal fossils were only found in Europe, Asia Minor and up to central Asia. The first fossil was found in a limestone quarry near Düsseldorf: One of the workers found part of a skeleton, in a valley called Neanderthal. Experts Johann Carl Fuhlrott and Hermann Schaaffhausen said the bones belonged to an older form of modern humans. These bones are known as Neanderthal 1 today.

Recent research suggests Neanderthals became extinct about 40,000 years ago.[3] Earlier research had suggested a later date; the problem is the dating of the archaeological sites where their remains have been found.

Neanderthals perhaps evolved from Homo heidelbergensis and split off (last common ancestor) from modern humans between 700,000 and 300,000 years ago.[4]

Neanderthals used to be classified as a subspecies of modern humans (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis). Now, they are usually classified as a separate human species (Homo neanderthalensis).

Neanderthal remains have been found in most of Europe south of land covered by ice including the south coast of Great Britain. Finds have also been made outside of Europe in the Zagros Mountains and in the Levant.

Mental capacity


The size of the Neanderthal brain shows that Neanderthals were probably intelligent. On average, they had larger brains than modern humans.[5] Large brains have their disadvantages. That is because they use lots of energy,[6] make the skull more likely to be damaged, and cause difficulties during birth. These disadvantages may be less than the advantages, for example, better problem-solving, better social co-operation, language and tool-making.

Neanderthal flint tools (for example, hand axes) were more finely made than those of early man. They were much less varied and finely made than the neolithic tools of modern man. Known Neanderthal art is much less complex than contemporary art from H. sapiens.[7]

The Divje Babe flute

The object on display in Ljubljana Museum

The oldest flute ever discovered may be the so-called Divje Babe flute, found in the Slovenian cave Divje Babe I in 1995. It is about 43,100 years old.[8][9][10] It is from a juvenile cave bear femur at the Divje Babe site, near a Mousterian hearth. Archaeologists ask two key questions:

Is it a flute? This has been discussed at length.[11][12][13][14] The best summary is that it is certainly possible for it to be a flute, but it is unproved (not certain).

If it is a flute, was it made by Neanderthals? Again, this is not decided. It is on public display as a flute in the National Museum of Slovenia (Narodni Muzej Slovenije) in Ljubljana. The museum's visitor leaflet says that manufacture by Neanderthals "is reliably proven".[15] This is not a general view, and again it is best to describe the idea as "not proven".[12][16][17]

Capacity for speech


For a long time, people have wondered whether Neanderthals could talk. Many people believe they could, because the large brain size would be hard to understand if they could not. When an undamaged Neanderthal hyoid bone was discovered, it made people think Neanderthals could talk. That is because, in humans, the hyoid is a support for the voice box. Computer analysis has shown that the Neanderthal hyoid was very similar to human hyoids.[18] Researchers say "our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals".[19]

History of discoveries


In August 1856 the specimen that was to become known as Neanderthal 1 was discovered in the Neander Valley, Germany. The material was found in a limestone quarry near Düsseldorf. A skull cap was first discovered, followed by two femurs, five arm bones, part of the left pelvis, and fragments of a shoulder blade and ribs.

Actually, some remains had been found earlier, but not recognised as a separate species from us. The Engis child from Belgium was the first Neanderthal discovered, in 1829. The second discovered was the Forbes Quarry find from Gibralter in 1848.


The Neanderthal skull differs from our skulls in a number of ways
Direct comparison

Neanderthal men were about 164–168 cm (5.3 ft) tall and averaged 77.6 kg (171 lbs) in weight. Neanderthal women stood about 154 cm (5 ft) tall and averaged 66.4 kg (146 lbs) in weight.[20]

Neanderthals had stronger (more robust) build and distinctive morphological features, especially of the skull. They were much stronger than modern humans;[21] especially in the upper body.

Neanderthal long bones and joints are thicker than ours, and some long bones have a slight curve. Both the thickness and the curve suggest the need for more strength than our species.

Young Neanderthals


Since 2007, tooth age can be directly calculated using the noninvasive imaging of growth patterns in tooth enamel by means of x-ray synchrotron microtomography.[22]

This research suggests much more rapid physical development in Neanderthals than in modern human children.[23] The x-ray synchrotron microtomography study of early H. sapiens argues that this difference existed between the two species as far back as 160,000 years before present.[24]



Neanderthals seemed to suffer a high frequency of fractures. These fractures are often healed and show little or no sign of infection, suggesting that injured individuals were cared for during times of incapacitation.

Neanderthals showed a frequency of such injuries comparable to that of modern rodeo professionals, showing frequent contact with large, combative mammals. The fractures suggest they may have hunted by leaping onto their prey and stabbing or even wrestling it to the ground.[25]

Life style


They lived in Eurasia during the ice ages of the Pleistocene, and hunted large mammals, such as bison, auroch (an ancestor of living cattle), deer, reindeer, musk ox and mammoth.

The skulls are slightly larger than Homo sapiens, and this implies intelligence and probably the use of language. The skeleton, on the other hand, suggests they tended to solve their problems (such as hunting) more by force than we do.

Neanderthal stone tools are called Mousterian, and are an advance on the Acheulean tools made by earlier species of Man. Homo sapiens stone tools are far more varied still, and suggest that our species relied more on tools than the Neanderthals.

Neanderthals were almost exclusively meat eaters although their diet did include cooked vegetables. They made good tools and lived in complex social groups. Research on their remains has shown that it is possible that they had a spoken language but the nature of any such language is unknown.

There are a number of theories that try to explain why the Neanderthals died out. It has been suggested that they may have been unable to adapt to the changing climate. Alternatively it has been suggested that they were unable to successfully compete with the ancestors of modern humans.


  1. The word is pronounced without the 'h', and sometimes spelled 'Neandertal'. English pronunciation: /niːˈændərθɑːl/, also with /neɪ-/, and /-tɑːl/
  2. Tattersall I, Schwartz JH (1999). "Hominids and hybrids: the place of Neanderthals in human evolution". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96 (13): 7117–9. Bibcode:1999PNAS...96.7117T. doi:10.1073/pnas.96.13.7117. PMC 33580. PMID 10377375. Available on-line
  3. Amos, Jonathan 2013. Last-stand Neanderthals queried. BBC News Science/Environment. [1]
  4. Ker Than 2006. Scientists decode Neanderthal genes Archived 2007-01-03 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Stringer, Chris and Gamble, Clive 1993.In search of the Neanderthals: solving the puzzle of human origins. Thames & Hudson, London, p81–83. ISBN 0-500-27807-5
  6. The human brain is about 2% of body weight, but uses about 20% of body energy.
  7. Rodriguez-Vidal, Joaquin et al. 2014. A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar. PNAS 111 (37) 13301–13306.
  8. Nelson D.E. Radiocarbon dating of bone and charcoal from Divje babe I cave, cited by Morley, p. 47
  9. Morley, Iain 2003. The evolutionary origins and archaeology of music. Darwin College Research Reports, Cambridge University. [2] Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Blackwell, Bonnie A.B. (2006). "Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) dating in karst environments" [Določanje starosti v krasu s pomočjo elektronske spinske resonance (ESR)] (PDF). Acta Carsologica. 35 (2). Ljubljana: SAZU, IZRK ZRC SAZU: 123–153. doi:10.3986/ac.v35i2-3.236. ISSN 0583-6050. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-01-09. Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  11. Morley, Iain 2006. Mousterian musicianship? The case of the Divje babe I bone. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 25 (4): 317–333. [3]
  12. 12.0 12.1 D'Errico, Francesco et al 1998. A Middle Palaeolithic origin of music? Using cave-bear bone accumulations to assess the Divje Babe I bone 'flute'. Antiquity. 72 (275): 65–79. [4]
  13. Neanderthal flute (various contributors; not a refereed journal site)
  14. Edgar, Blake 1998. Could Neanderthals carry a tune?. California Wild (California Academy of Sciences) 51 (3). [5]
  15. The flute from Divje Babe, National Museum of Slovenia, 2005
  16. Holdermann, Claus-Stephan, and Jordi Serangeli 1999. Die 'Neanderthalerflöte' von Divje-Babe: Eine Revolution in der Musikgeschichte? In German. Musica instrumentalis: Zeitschrift für Organologie 2:147–57.
  17. Chase, Philip G. & Nowell, April 2002. "Ist der Knochen eines Höhlenbären aus Divje Bebe, Slowenien, eine Flöte des Neandertalers?" [Is a cave bear bone from Divje Babe, Slovenia, a Neanderthal flute?]. In Hickmann, Ellen et al (eds) Studies in Music Archaeology III, Part I. The Archaeology of Sound: Origin and Organisation. Papers from the 2nd Symposium of the International Study Group on Music Archaeology at Monastery Michaelstein, 17-23 September 2000. Rahden: Leidorf. pp. 69–81. ISBN 978-3-89646-640-2.
  18. Hogenboom, Melissa 2013. Neanderthals could speak like modern humans, study suggests. BBC News Science & Environment.
  19. D'Anastasio R. et al 2013. Micro-biomechanics of the Kebara 2 hyoid and its implications for speech in Neanderthals. PLoS
  20. Froehle, Andrew W; Chruchill, Steven E (2009). "Energetic competition between Neandertals and anatomically modern humans" (PDF). PaleoAnthropology: 96–116. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  21. "Neanderthal". BBC. Archived from the original on 31 May 2010. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
  22. Tafforeau P, Smith TM (2008). "Nondestructive imaging of hominoid dental microstructure using phase contrast X-ray synchrotron microtomography". Journal of Human Evolution. 54 (2): 272–8. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.09.018. PMID 18045654.
  23. Smith T.M.; et al. (2007). "Rapid dental development in a Middle Paleolithic Belgian Neanderthal". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104 (51): 20220–5. Bibcode:2007PNAS..10420220S. doi:10.1073/pnas.0707051104. PMC 2154412. PMID 18077342.
  24. Smith T.M.; et al. (2007). "Earliest evidence of modern human life history in North African early Homo sapiens". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104 (15): 6128–33. doi:10.1073/pnas.0700747104. PMC 1828706. PMID 17372199.
  25. T.D. Berger and E. Trinkaus (1995). "Patterns of trauma among Neadertals". Journal of Archaeological Science. 22: 841–852. doi:10.1016/0305-4403(95)90013-6. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-06-28.

Further reading

  • Stringer, Chris and Gamble, Clive 1993. In search of the Neanderthals: solving the puzzle of human origins. Thames & Hudson, London. ISBN 0-500-27807-5
  • Stringer, Chris and Andrews, Peter 2005. The complete world of human evolution. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Dennis O'Neil 2004. Neandertals Archived 2018-12-26 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 12/26/2004

Other websites