Neanderthals and their Thinking Ability

Neanderthals and their Thinking Ability

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At the El Castillo Cave in Spain, a series of rock artwork puzzles anthropologists. While initially the artwork was thought to be over 40,000 years old, making it the work of Homo sapiens, recent dating based on the decay of the uranium atoms in the calcite which is on the surface of the artwork shows that the artwork may be older, possible thousands of years older than initially believed, making the artist(s) of this artwork the Neanderthals.

The results of the dating will be finalized in the next few months, but if that is true then it means that the Neanderthals are not the cavemen that we had in mind but they were similar to us and capable of thinking and creating art. Of course we shouldn’t forget that Neanderthals mysteriously disappeared without leaving any trace.

Neanderthals supposedly migrated into Europe about 300 thousand years ago from Eurasia. They were considered very primitive compared to us and there are a few theories mentioning that modern humans and Neanderthals co-existed and interbred while other studies show the opposite. So basically we have no idea.

Joao Zilhao , a leading expert on Neanderthals, believes that the Neanderthals are not the primates that we think they are. He suggests that they used to bury their dead which shows that they had some kind of spirituality – or may be shows that they have learned or observed that from some other species. If it is the case that Neanderthals coexisted with Homo Sapiens then it may be the case that they observed and repeated what modern humans were doing in that period of time.

Zilhao also suggests they may have even made glue to secure spear points. Of course not all sceptical archaeologists agree with these suggestions. But one finding that Zilhao uses to support his theory is three shells that were found in Spain with holes near the edge, suggesting that they may have been used as ornaments.

If the date of those pigments goes beyond 50,000 years ago then Zilhao’s theory will get more support from archaeologists.

However the truth is that all these debates are based on very little evidence and it is simply theoretical speculation at this point. The truth may be something completely different.

    These 'creativity genes' allowed humans to take over the world

    Researchers compared the genes of chimpanzees, modern humans and Neanderthals.

    Creativity could be one of the main reasons Homo sapiens survived and dominated over related species such as Neanderthals and chimpanzees, according to a new study.

    The idea that creativity may have given Homo sapiens a survival edge over Neanderthals has been around a long time, said senior author Dr. Claude Robert Cloninger, a professor emeritus in the psychiatry and genetics departments at Washington University in St. Louis. But that's a tricky case to prove, as we still don't know how creative Neanderthals actually were, he said.

    "The problem with evaluating creativity in extinct species is, of course, you can't talk to them," Cloninger told Live Science. So an international team of researchers, led by a group at the University of Granada in Spain and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, looked at genes to examine what distinguished humans, including their creative ability, from their distant relatives.

    The researchers had previously identified 972 modern genes that regulate three distinct systems of learning and memory in Homo sapiens: emotional reactivity, self-control and self-awareness. The emotional reactivity network involves the ability to form social attachments and learn behaviors while the self-control network involves the ability to set goals, cooperate with others and make tools.

    The self-awareness network, on the other hand, involves "episodic learning" or remembering and improving upon past behaviors and autobiographical memory of a person's life as a narrative with a past, present and a future "within which the person can explore alternative perspectives with intuitive insight and creative imagination," according to the study.

    Self-awareness is "what enables us to have divergent, original creative thinking [and to] be very flexible," Cloninger said.

    In the new study, the researchers analyzed DNA previously taken from Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) fossils, modern humans (Homo sapiens), and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). They found that the genes related to the oldest network &mdash emotional reactivity &mdash were identical among Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and chimpanzees. But the chimpanzees completely lacked the genes that led to self-awareness and self-control in humans.

    Some, but not all, of those genes were present in Neanderthals. "The Neanderthals were about halfway between the chimps and modern humans'' in the number of these genes they carried, Cloninger told Live Science.

    What's more, 267 of those 972 genes were unique to Homo sapiens, and they were all so-called regulatory genes. In other words, they dial the activity of other genes up or down. These genes &mdash which were absent in chimpanzees and Neanderthals &mdash regulate the brain networks involved in self-awareness and creativity.

    Neanderthals were not inferior to modern humans, study finds

    If you think Neanderthals were stupid and primitive, it's time to think again.

    The widely held notion that Neanderthals were dimwitted and that their inferior intelligence allowed them to be driven to extinction by the much brighter ancestors of modern humans is not supported by scientific evidence, according to a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

    Neanderthals thrived in a large swath of Europe and Asia between about 350,000 and 40,000 years ago. They disappeared after our ancestors, a group referred to as "anatomically modern humans," crossed into Europe from Africa.

    In the past, some researchers have tried to explain the demise of the Neanderthals by suggesting that the newcomers were superior to Neanderthals in key ways, including their ability to hunt, communicate, innovate and adapt to different environments.

    But in an extensive review of recent Neanderthal research, CU-Boulder researcher Paola Villa and co-author Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, make the case that the available evidence does not support the opinion that Neanderthals were less advanced than anatomically modern humans. Their paper was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

    "The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there," said Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. "What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true."

    Villa and Roebroeks scrutinized nearly a dozen common explanations for Neanderthal extinction that rely largely on the notion that the Neanderthals were inferior to anatomically modern humans. These include the hypotheses that Neanderthals did not use complex, symbolic communication that they were less efficient hunters who had inferior weapons and that they had a narrow diet that put them at a competitive disadvantage to anatomically modern humans, who ate a broad range of things.

    The researchers found that none of the hypotheses were supported by the available research. For example, evidence from multiple archaeological sites in Europe suggests that Neanderthals hunted as a group, using the landscape to aid them.

    Researchers have shown that Neanderthals likely herded hundreds of bison to their death by steering them into a sinkhole in southwestern France. At another site used by Neanderthals, this one in the Channel Islands, fossilized remains of 18 mammoths and five woolly rhinoceroses were discovered at the base of a deep ravine. These findings imply that Neanderthals could plan ahead, communicate as a group and make efficient use of their surroundings, the authors said.

    Other archaeological evidence unearthed at Neanderthal sites provides reason to believe that Neanderthals did in fact have a diverse diet. Microfossils found in Neanderthal teeth and food remains left behind at cooking sites indicate that they may have eaten wild peas, acorns, pistachios, grass seeds, wild olives, pine nuts and date palms depending on what was locally available.

    Additionally, researchers have found ochre, a kind of earth pigment, at sites inhabited by Neanderthals, which may have been used for body painting. Ornaments have also been collected at Neanderthal sites. Taken together, these findings suggest that Neanderthals had cultural rituals and symbolic communication.

    Villa and Roebroeks say that the past misrepresentation of Neanderthals' cognitive ability may be linked to the tendency of researchers to compare Neanderthals, who lived in the Middle Paleolithic, to modern humans living during the more recent Upper Paleolithic period, when leaps in technology were being made.

    "Researchers were comparing Neanderthals not to their contemporaries on other continents but to their successors," Villa said. "It would be like comparing the performance of Model T Fords, widely used in America and Europe in the early part of the last century, to the performance of a modern-day Ferrari and conclude that Henry Ford was cognitively inferior to Enzo Ferrari."

    Although many still search for a simple explanation and like to attribute the Neanderthal demise to a single factor, such as cognitive or technological inferiority, archaeology shows that there is no support for such interpretations, the authors said.

    But if Neanderthals were not technologically and cognitively disadvantaged, why didn't they survive?

    The researchers argue that the real reason for Neanderthal extinction is likely complex, but they say some clues may be found in recent analyses of the Neanderthal genome over the last several years. These genomic studies suggest that anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals likely interbred and that the resulting male children may have had reduced fertility. Recent genomic studies also suggest that Neanderthals lived in small groups. All of these factors could have contributed to the decline of the Neanderthals, who were eventually swamped and assimilated by the increasing numbers of modern immigrants.

    Much of What We Thought About Neanderthals Was Wrong. Here’s Why That Matters

    T he Neanderthals never really had a chance. I&rsquom not talking about 40,000 years ago, when we see their remains disappear from the fossil record, but about their rediscovery many millennia later, at a moment when a very particular cultural hierarchy was the order of the day. That another sort of human entirely had once walked the Earth was a deeply shocking fact, one among a volley of disturbing threats lobbed by science against the notion that the cosmos centered on us, Homo sapiens. From 1856&mdashthe year they were first noticed&mdashuntil the present day, Neanderthals have consistently been framed in opposition to us, not as fellow travelers along evolution&rsquos swift and mighty cataract.

    But archaeology as a discipline wasn&rsquot paying attention to the role we wished to cast Neanderthals in. Instead, it was busily learning how to do more than simply collect beautiful stony trinkets and arrange them in shape order. Now, we can zoom out from the micro-layers of a single hearth whose embers last glowed in Iberia 90,000 years ago, to the secrets of continental-scale population movements buried in DNA from a Neanderthal woman living around the same time, thousands of miles east in Siberia. Today&rsquos vision of these ancient relations is as distant from old views of Neanderthals&mdashunintelligent cave thugs, the losers of our family tree&mdashas modern astronomy is from the idea of a universe bounded by the Milky Way. And what 21st century archaeology paints is a truly compelling portrait, of another kind of human, traveling their own path.

    Particularly in the last three decades, many conventional theories about Neanderthals have been exploded. For example, for much of the past 160 years, it was believed they were specifically adapted to extreme cold now we know that their environmental range was far broader, and they didn&rsquot really enjoy hyper-frigid conditions. This variety of environments brought with it a massive diversity in ways to make a living. Neanderthals were top hunters who took on prey ranging from true mega-fauna like mammoths and woolly rhinos to small game. Whether hunting or foraging, a deep knowledge of the world guided them&mdashthey knew the best way to take apart a reindeer, how to roast a tortoise or where to gather water-lily roots.

    Neanderthals were also keenly concerned with the characteristics of materials&mdashmost obviously rock. Stone tools connected every aspect of life. They sliced, chopped and scraped the food they ate, the clothing they wore, the fuel that kept the darkness at bay. Patterns from many hundreds of archaeological sites show they understood how different rock types required varying approaches for knapping, and were flexible enough to alter and combine techniques for acquiring the sorts of flakes&mdashand sometimes blades and points&mdashthey were after. Study of other materials, such as wood, reveals the same impression of knowledgeable craft. Nor did they use that knowledge for tools alone. While standards of proof are justifiably high (although often more stringent than we demand from early H. sapiens contexts), there do seem to be some striking hints that their material engagements went beyond the functional. For example, a fossil shell from an Italian site dating around 55,000 years ago must have been originally found by a Neanderthal some 60 miles away from the site, and its outer surface bears red pigment, itself sourced from 25 miles away.

    Recent discoveries even challenged the Neanderthal &ldquofact&rdquo about which we were most certain: their extinction. That changed when in 2010 the first nuclear genome revealed that, rather than their being distant cousins we&rsquod shoved aside by 40,000 years ago, ancient interbreeding had left a genetic Neanderthal legacy in most living people. Of course, it&rsquos obvious that Neanderthals aren&rsquot &ldquostill here&rdquo in a full sense since we still look like ourselves, there cannot have been a total Borg-style assimilation. But neither are they totally extinguished.

    Indeed, the story we like to tell ourselves about our success and their failure is looking less clear-cut in other ways. It now seems that the span of time during which early H. sapiens dispersed out of Africa is far greater than once believed, reaching back before 150,000 years ago and featuring many phases of baby-making. Yet those early explorers of Eurasia vanished into evolutionary oblivion, leaving virtually no surviving DNA lineages visible in people today, and were replaced themselves by multiple waves of later populations. Early Homo sapiens, in other words, weren&rsquot fundamentally better at surviving than Neanderthals were.

    What does this new view of Neanderthals teach us? In many ways they were super resilient. We know they were flexible, adaptable survivors who weathered repeated and extreme climate change. Around 120,000 years ago, this even included a world warmer than today, by some 2&ndash4°C and with sea-levels up to 8 meters higher&mdashprecisely where we are headed in the next few centuries if we don&rsquot make a drastic change now.

    But something did shift during their final ten millennia, between 50-40,000 years ago. Rather than a single cause for their dying out, it&rsquos looking as if Neanderthals were caught in a many-angled vise. Intensifying climate chaos was part of that. And there probably was something qualitatively different in their H. sapiens contemporaries, potentially better hunting technologies and greater social connectivity, which crowded them out. Perhaps, even as the last hybrid babies were being conceived, something else more dangerous was exchanged finishing writing my book about Neanderthals in spring 2020 made it impossible to disregard the possibility that our species may have brought some deadly pathogen into the equation. Or it might all however have come down to nothing more dramatic than a slow fading away, and whatever the details, the Neanderthals’ end undoubtedly unfolded in different ways across their huge geographic realm, from France to Central Asia and beyond.

    By 30,000 years ago, there were no more Neanderthals. Nor were there any of the other ancient hominin species who had populated Eurasia. From the Cape of Good Hope to the Blue Mountains of Australia, our H. sapiens ancestors were alone on Earth. This point has typically been framed as a victory of our species, a vision in which we are the successful explorers or conquerors, but maybe it was the opposite. We once witnessed&mdashperhaps caused&mdashthe elimination of our closest relations. Now, tens of millennia later, we are waking up to what else we&rsquore on the brink of losing. For the sake of both the future and past generations we bear within us, let&rsquos learn a new way to be resilient while treading lightly&mdasha new path to being human.

    Did Neanderthals Have the Capacity for Verbal Language?

    The Neanderthal of popular imagination is a hideous, ape-like being, lumbering around with his or her crude spear. Rarely do we picture this person, or pre-person, engaged in any kind of conversation, beyond the occasional grunt-off over a spoiled piece of meat. But—depending on which archaeologist/linguist you happen to ask—the truth is somewhat different. Some researchers, of course, are more convinced than others for this week’s Giz Asks , we present a survey on the subject.

    Anna Goldfield

    Researcher, Anthropology, UC Davis, whose research focuses on Neanderthal nutrition and subsistence behavior

    There are two sides to this discussion: the language side and the cognitive side.

    The language side is, essentially: Did Neanderthals have the physical capacity to speak and make the sounds that language requires? Much of the debate here turns on the hyoid bone, which is located just under the jawbone, inside your throat. It allows us, among other things, to swallow, take in air, and speak.

    There is a single Neanderthal hyoid preserved, from a site in Israel called Kabara. This is the only Neanderthal hyoid bone we have, so it is very difficult to draw large extrapolations about their capacity of speech from it. But using computer modeling, researchers have taken data for where the hyoid bone sits in the human throat and then skewed those measurements to fit on the Neanderthal skull. They’ve figured out where the hyoid most likely sat in the Neanderthal throat, and they’ve used that to model what the Neanderthal voice box would look like. The upshot of that is we can tell Neanderthals would have had the anatomical equipment to make most of the same mouth, tongue, and throat movements that humans can.

    Neanderthal skulls are a bit different than human skulls, which means some of the sounds would have been different, too, though I’m not sure to what extent. I think the way they pronounced some of the sounds, especially some vowel sounds, might sound a bit odd to human ears. (Though it’s important to note that all of this is very speculative.)

    Then there’s the cognitive side, which is a whole other can of worms, one that is even more speculative. We have evidence of Neanderthal sociality: We know they had family groups, we know they cared for one another. They had the kinds of social relationships that would be conducive to a form of verbal communication. And given what we know about their technology, and even the (very few, debated) examples of their art, there’s nothing to suggest that, cognitively, they were any less able to communicate than humans. But it’s important to note that there’s more evidence against them not being able to communicate than there is direct evidence for any form of communication. We just don’t have it: It’s something intangible, and very difficult to get at through what’s left in the archaeological record.

    Stephen C. Levinson

    Director Emeritus, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, whose research focuses on language diversity and its implications for theories of human cognition

    A lot of recent findings converge to show that the evidence is now overwhelming that Neanderthals had the capacity for verbal language. To enumerate:

    1. They had the right genes, as far as we can tell

    2. They had the modern vocal tract that enables language

    3. They had the special enervation of the thoracic vertebrae implicated in precise breath control for speech

    4. Their audition, as shown by audiograms based on proto-Neanderthal middle ear formation, was more or less identical to modern humans and distinct from apes

    5. They used symbolic media, made cave paintings, and decorated the dead

    6. They utilized advanced technology that would take years with full instruction for you or I to learn, and collectively hunted megafauna.

    It is vanishingly unlikely Neanderthals were endowed with properties 1-4 without those capacities having been honed by language use over hundreds of thousands of years. It is also unlikely that they would have exhibited the behaviors in 5-6 without the benefit of language. Since Neanderthals and modern humans shared a main common ancestor over 600,000 years ago, and the two branches evidence early language, vocal language must go back at least that far.

    It is much harder of course to know exactly what Neanderthal languages were like—that there were many is likely, given the vast geographies and time-scales involved. As we learn more about the contribution of genes to specific brain areas and the vocal tract, we may be able to home in on some of the properties—there are hints, for example, that their languages may have been tonal, like Chinese.

    So if vocal languages didn’t originate with anatomically modern humans (us), when did it originate? Another hard question, but based on a single well-preserved vertebral column from Homo erectus (1.6 million years old), it appears that Homo erectus did not have property 3 above, and thus lacked spoken language, which must therefore have arisen sometime between 1.6 million and 600,000 years ago. Since H. erectus was also a highly successful advanced tool user and had mastered fire and many different Eurasian and African ecologies, it may be supposed that the species used an advanced sign language of the kind still evident among deaf communities today. It is otherwise hard to explain why we are the only species that can shift the modality of its communication system from the oral to the gestural—indeed we freely gesture as we use spoken languages in a curious way.

    Cheryl Hill

    Professor, Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, University of Missouri

    The short answer is…maybe.

    Language, including writing and especially verbal language, is a hallmark of humanity. The ongoing discussion about whether Neanderthals had the capacity for verbal language points to our fascination with our origins and what makes us human. We look to the fossil record to better understand our place in the world and figure out when “human” behaviors emerged.

    Scientists have examined many aspects of Neanderthal anatomy in an attempt to determine whether Neanderthals could speak. By comparing the fossil remains of Neanderthals to extant, or living, animals, like humans and other primates, we can identify similarities among species. For example, the hyoid, which is a floating bone in the neck and connected via muscle to the larynx, has a similar shape in humans and Neanderthals. Unfortunately, the larynx, or voicebox, is made of cartilage, so we don’t have any fossilized larynges to study.

    Ears may hold some clues, too. Scientists have used computed tomography (CT) scanning to study the middle and inner ear of Neanderthals. These scans reveal that the small bones of the middle ear (auditory ossicles) and the cochlea appear to be functionally similar in Neanderthals and humans. This suggests Neanderthals and modern humans would have been capable of hearing similar sounds, which is notable because human ears are optimized for hearing human voices. (This is why we can’t hear dog whistles, for example.)

    So, the fossil record evidence is tantalizing, but not definitive. Also, since brains and nerves don’t fossilize, we lack evidence of key neural connections and language production and processing areas in the Neanderthal brain.

    Scientists have discovered a lot about the anatomy of Neanderthals which allow us to speculate on their capacity for language, but unfortunately, we are still missing crucial pieces to the puzzle.

    Thomas Wynn

    Professor, Anthropology, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

    My background is archaeology, not linguistics, so I have that particular slant on it. But I think the simplest way to answer this question is to say that the evidence neither demonstrates nor eliminates the possibility of Neanderthals having spoken language. A lot has been written on the subject, but none of it is really convincing one way or the other. Rudie Botha published a book recently which persuaded me to go along with his line of thinking, which is that none of the arguments that claim to demonstrate Neanderthals had spoken language are convincing. There are gaps in the reasoning. When I look at the archaeological record, I think, yes, there’s some evidence Neanderthals might have used symbols, but use of symbols doesn’t necessarily mean they had language.

    Part of the problem is that most people don’t carefully define what they mean when they talk about language. Language and speech are two related but different things. Even if you were to demonstrate that Neanderthals had some kind of speech, that would not necessarily mean they had language—all it would demonstrate is that Neanderthals had some form of vocal communication. It would not mean they had language in any modern conception of the term.

    Neanderthals have become sort of a doppelganger for people: We project a lot of our personal, political, and theoretical biases onto them. You end up with very few sober interpretations. From my point of view as an archaeologist, I don’t think there’s any way we’re ever going to know about the nature of Neanderthal communication.

    Chris Stringer

    Research Leader, Human Evolution, Natural History Museum, London

    I think that simple talking, using words, must already have existed in early human species, given the complexity of behavior that is already apparent at sites like Boxgrove and Schöningen in Europe and Kapthurin in Kenya that predate the Neanderthals. So Neanderthals would have inherited and built on the kind of language or languages acquired from their ancestors. The shape of the hyoid bone, which is linked to the voice box, is similar in Neanderthals and modern humans, and their middle ear bones seem to have had a similar functionality to ours, both of which suggest comparable speech and hearing capabilities, although some reconstructions of the throat suggest the voice box was positioned higher in Neanderthals, giving them higher-pitched voices.

    Language, as compared with talking, evolved out of social complexity, out of a need to communicate increasingly intricate and subtle messages, and so I think that modern human languages would have been more complex than those of the Neanderthals. Our languages are not just for the here and now, as earlier ones mostly were, since through them we can talk about the past and future, about abstract concepts and feelings and relationships, and about virtual worlds that we can create in our minds.

    Nathan Lents

    Professor, Biology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, whose lab studies the recent evolution of the human genome in an effort to help understand the genetic underpinnings of human uniqueness

    Unfortunately, speech doesn’t leave a fossil or archaeological record the way that writing does. We are quite sure that modern humans could not only speak, but use complex grammatical language, long before they started writing. Humans are born to speak and use language—it’s a hard-wired instinct that evolved over enormous amounts of time, because it’s a biological behavior, whereas written language is purely cultural. We don’t have to teach our children to speak. They will just automatically begin to do so through imitation and spontaneous expression. Not so with written language. This had to be invented and developed, and it has to be painfully taught and learned because it is not hard-wired in any way.

    So how can we determine if Neanderthals could speak? Anthropologists typically look in three key areas. First is the vocal anatomy. We know that the human throat has several adaptations that specifically facilitate speech. Unfortunately, we don’t have soft tissue from Neanderthals so we don’t know much about their vocal tract. But what we can tell from their hyoid bone—the bone from which the voice box is hung—is that they have some of the same adaptations that we have and that our most recent common ancestor does not. In other words, what little evidence we have from their throat is suggestive. It’s not a slam dunk, but it scores points in the “yes” column.

    The second line of evidence is genetics. The genetics of human speech is staggeringly complex, speaking to how this behavior slowly evolved over millions of years. Because most of those millions of years were in shared common ancestry with Neanderthals—we only diverged from them in the last million years—this fact alone somewhat supports the notion that they had some kind of speech or advanced communication. In addition, the few precise gene variants that we know are crucial for human speech are shared with Neanderthals. This, too, argues that Neanderthals communicated in complex ways, though not necessarily through spoken language.

    A third way that we can consider the likelihood of Neanderthal language is to consider their behavior and their technology. They have, by far, the most sophisticated set of tools and other artifacts of any species other than modern humans. They had hand axes, ropes, clothing, jewelry, and body paint. They may have used projectile weapons, controlled use of fire, and buried their dead. This is the most controversial type of evidence and there are sharp disagreements among the experts on what Neanderthals really made and what it meant to them. Taken as whole, the body of artifacts attributed to Neanderthals argues for impressive handiwork, procedural memory, and even calculation. Like modern humans, they survived in harsh climates through ingenuity. They were highly intelligent and with brains as big as ours, even bigger in many cases. The question is, “Did they have symbolic thought?” We don’t have conclusive evidence either way, but it is looking more and more likely that they did.

    And a final point to consider. The spoken word is not the only form of complex language that we should be thinking about. It may very well be that gestures and sign language were the earliest forms of complex language in our history. One strong piece of evidence is the striking repertoire of gestures and body language among the other African apes, gorillas and the two species of chimpanzees. These apes communicate with dozens, maybe hundreds, of specific gestures, while their vocalizations are pretty generic. Some apes have even been taught to sign and understand using human sign language. Communicating with sign language involves most of the same brain areas and the same genes as vocal communication, so it’s possible that both of these evolved together, each reinforcing the other, as our ancestors became more and more behaviorally modern.

    Jeffrey Laitman

    Distinguished Professor and Director, Center for Anatomy & Functional Morphology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

    My science has dealt with the evaluation of the developing head and neck region, particularly the areas of the throat and the parts in communication with the middle ear. It’s also looked at how our larynx has evolved, how the spaces around it have evolved, and what this has meant for our species’ evolution. Part of what our group has done over the decades has been to find ways to reconstruct the soft anatomy, the perishable anatomy, of human ancestors (the throat, the eustachian tube), and to develop some idea of how our ancestors may actually have lived.

    Most people that study Neanderthals agree, to the extent that scientists can agree, that they were most likely a separate species. They came from different lineages, and their anatomy was in some ways different from ours. They are generally thought to have their own history, going back perhaps three quarters of a million years.

    Originally, the people who reconstructed them portrayed them as dumb brutes. Certainly, their archaeological culture is not as robust, not as graphic, as that of our own ancestors that might have lived some miles down the road from them, in different caves. On the other hand, their brains were larger than ours.

    So could they speak? These were, again, large-brained, super-close cousins of ours they can be expected to have had a lot of verbal/vocal communication. But—and this is sort of the rub—it was likely not the same as ours. We don’t think that Neanderthals were, for example, able to produce certain of the quantal vowels. Their tongue was more in their mouth their larynx was higher-up. Initial sounds are made at what’s called the vocal folds or vocal chords—the sound then continues up and is modified by space in our throat, and that’s how we produce the variety of sounds that we can. We don’t think Neanderthals had the same organization as we do, and likely thus could not produce the same array of sounds with the same rapidity that we can today. I don’t think they had the ability for fully articulate speech.

    But did they have complex abilities? Of course—though we’re not sure what they did with them. They don’t seem to have the artwork, they don’t seem, to many of us, to have the physical apparatus to make the same range of sounds that we do. But they had these huge brains. It’s really quite a mystery.

    Andrey G. Vyshedskiy

    Adjunct Professor, Boston University, whose work spans the intersection of neuroscience, linguistics, primatology, and paleoanthropology

    The mystery of Neanderthals' massive eyes

    Our extinct cousins had eyes much larger than ours. Were these giant peepers the reason for the Neanderthals' demise, or the secret of their success?

    We won't ever come face to face with a real-life Neanderthal. They went extinct thousands of years ago. All we can do is use their remains to reconstruct what they were like.

    In many ways they were a lot like us. In fact they were so similar, our species actually interbred with theirs.

    Nevertheless there were some differences. One stands out: they had weirdly large eyes.

    On the face of it, big eyes sound like a good thing. Presumably, having bigger eyes meant the Neanderthals could see better than us.

    But according to one controversial theory, Neanderthals' big eyes played a key role in their demise.

    Neanderthals were around before we evolved. They first appeared around 250,000 years ago and spread throughout Europe and Asia.

    Our own species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago. They reached Europe around 45,000 years ago, and found it was inhabited by Neanderthals.

    Both their eyes and their brain's visual system were larger than ours

    We co-existed with them for 5,000 years, according to the latest estimate. But eventually they disappeared, perhaps as early as 40,000 years ago.

    In 2013, a team led by Eiluned Pearce of the University of Oxford in the UK proposed a radical explanation: their eyes were to blame.

    From a detailed analysis of modern human and Neanderthal skulls, Pearce found that both their eyes and their brain's visual system were larger than ours.

    Their big eyes meant that they devoted a larger part of their brain to seeing.

    However, Pearce suggests that this came at a cost to their social world. Other parts of their brain would in turn have been smaller.

    We all get by with help from our friends, but Neanderthals did not have enough friends to help out

    "Since Neanderthals evolved at higher latitudes and also have bigger bodies than modern humans, more of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking," Pearce said at the time.

    The theory goes that, unlike us, they could not devote large parts of their brain to developing complex social networks. So when they were faced with major threats, such as a changing climate or competition from modern humans, they were at a disadvantage.

    Teamwork would have been vital in these situations, so if they lacked the ability to form large groups, they would not have had the support they needed. We all get by with help from our friends, but Neanderthals did not have enough friends to help out.

    "The substantive issue is not the opening through which the eye peers, but the area of the retina at the back," says co-author Robin Dunbar, also from the University of Oxford.

    Our species, on the other hand, evolved in Africa where there is plenty of light

    This area is so important because it records all the incoming light from the world. Neanderthals lived in northern regions where the light was dimmer, and their large eyes may have helped them to see better.

    "To see more clearly, you need to gather more light into the eye, and that means having a bigger retina," says Dunbar. "The size of the retina is determined by the size of the eyeball."

    Because of this, Dunbar and Pearce argue, a bigger "computer" was needed to process all this additional visual information. "By analogy, there is no point in having an incredibly large radio telescope attached to a tiny computer that gets overwhelmed by the information coming in," Dunbar says.

    Our species, on the other hand, evolved in Africa where there is plenty of light. We did not need such a large visual processing system. Instead we evolved a bigger frontal lobe, allowing us to develop more complex social lives.

    It's a neat story. But other biologists are far from convinced, and some of them have set out to unpick the idea.

    They have now published their findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The new analysis suggests that Neanderthals' large eyes did not contribute to their extinction after all.

    We actually think that eyes have nothing to do with social groups

    John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues looked at 18 living primate species, to find out whether the size of their eye sockets was linked to the size of their social groups.

    Rather than bigger eyes resulting in smaller social groups, they found that the opposite was true. "Big eyes actually indicate bigger social groups in other primates," says Hawks.

    "If we could believe that logic, we would expect Neanderthals to be better social animals than we are today. Now, we don't believe any of it: we actually think that eyes have nothing to do with social groups."

    To truly understand how Neanderthals socialised with each other, we would be better off looking at clues from the archaeological record, says Hawks. These clues show "that they were sophisticated social beings", not socially-inept loners.

    There are other reasons to question Pearce and Dunbar's idea.

    Neanderthals in general were slightly larger than the average modern human. Their eyes might simply be proportionally larger in the same way as the rest of their face is.

    In 2012, Pearce and Dunbar showed that some modern humans living in high latitudes also have larger eyes than average. Yet the other parts of their brain are not smaller, as far as we know. "Basically, eyes don't tell you anything useful about cognitive abilities in living people," says Hawks.

    Vision and cognition are not separate

    The issue is further complicated by the fact that the brain is extremely interconnected. The visual cortex is involved in processing visual information, but it does not paint the whole picture of our world.

    How we interpret what we see is in part defined by our pre-existing knowledge of the world. For example, our memories are closely linked with our emotions. All of these cognitive processes occur in slightly different parts of the brain, and vision plays a role in them all.

    In other words, vision and cognition are not separate.

    They are "intrinsically related", says Robert Barton from Durham University in the UK, who was not involved with either study. In 1998, he showed that a larger visual area of the brain can result in the expansion of other areas, not a reduction.

    The truth is that after we initially perceive an object in the real world, the information is projected into several areas of the brain. "It's difficult to distinguish what particular areas of the cortex are not involved with vision," Barton says.

    Lastly, it is true that large eyes also give the holder the benefit of increased visual sensitivity in low light. Many nocturnal species have large eyes for that purpose.

    Neanderthals' big eyes may have been crucial to their success

    However, it is only the ability to see fine details that increases the computational demand within the brain's visual system, says Barton.

    Pearce's study does not differentiate between this visual acuity and simple sensitivity to faint light, says Barton. "[Sensitivity] is a matter of the basic physics of light capture," he says, so higher sensitivity doesn't need more brainpower.

    Nocturnal primates like bushbabies illustrate this point. They have very large eyes but do not have a corresponding larger visual cortex.

    If Barton is right, Pearce and Dunbar have the story backwards. Neanderthals' big eyes may have been crucial to their success, allowing them to flourish in regions with dim light. But they need not have led to their owners' downfall.

    The ‘evolution’ of Neanderthals over the last 100 years says more about us

    Over the last 100 years, reconstructions of their appearance have slowly become ‘humanised’ with each new revelation about their culture and physiology, culminating in the stunning discovery in 2010 that up to 4% of the genome all modern humans of European and Asian origin carry Neanderthal DNA, as a result of interbreeding between the two species.

    Naturalist Johann Carl Fuhlrott was the first to recognise that the 1856 Neanderthal remains belonged to an ancient race of humans. It was a controversial interpretation for many, as it contradicted religious beliefs about human origins the short, stocky limb bones and the skull’s oversized brow suggested an ape-like ancestor that did not fit in with the biblical idea of God’s creation.

    The discovery in 1908 of a nearly complete Neanderthal skeleton at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France, shaped popular perceptions of the Neanderthals for the next few decades. Unfortunately, because the specimen was severely arthritic, it gave the impression that all Neanderthals had bent knees and walked like chimpanzees. This fuelled the preoccupation of the time with finding a ‘missing link’ between modern humans and apes. With a lack of human fossil remains to go on, Neanderthals seemed to fit the bill.

    The reconstructions of ‘the primitive human races’ below by the prehistorian Aimé Rutot and the sculptor Louis Mascré around the same time reflect this notion. Rutot said: “According to my ideas, which are a result of my studies, I think that Neanderthal Man is the holdover from a race of Humanity’s Precursors, a subjugated race, long since enslaved by other, really human, beings of a higher evolutionary line, whom we know under the name ‘Paleolithic’. These final descendants of an ancient race, that still resembles animals and has been reduced to slavery, lived with their master in shared caves. The master gave the orders, the slave obeyed.”

    1910s – Simian

    The scientific name for the Neanderthal species – Homo neanderthalensis – was first suggested by geologist William King in 1864. However, an alternative proposal put forward by Ernst Haeckel in 1866 – Homo stupidus – is more revealing about common attitudes to the Neanderthals which persisted well into the 20th century. The public’s imagination about Neanderthals became more captured in popular literature in the 1920s. In his book, The Outline of History, H.G. Wells suggested that an ancient cultural memory of the Neanderthals may have survived as the ogres and trolls of folklore. He assumed that the first modern humans did not interbreed with Neanderthals, as they would have been repelled by the Neanderthal’s ‘extreme hairiness’, ‘ugliness’, and ‘repulsive strangeness’. Wells further wrote that, “Its thick skull imprisoned its brain, and to the end it was low-browed and brutish.”

    The reconstructions by sculptor Frederick Blaschke, exhibited in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago in the 1920s and 30s, mirror this sentiment. A 1929 guide on Neanderthal Man by the curators of the museum describes how Blaschke modelled the figures on casts of Neanderthal skeletal remains and with the advice of European anatomists. The guide boasts: “As to anatomical details therefore, it is believed that a remarkably accurate reconstruction of several different individuals such as would form a Neanderthal family has been made.” The level of hairiness of the Neanderthals was unknown so, “as the primitive men ofAustraliahave several Neanderthaloid characters, including heavy brow ridges, it was decided to follow their hirsute type.” Oddly though, the males have short-cropped hairstyles.

    1920s – Gormless

    1930s – Lumpen

    The discovery of 9 Neanderthal skeletons in northern Iraq in the 1950s confirmed changing perceptions. One was buried with flowers, showing that Neanderthals buried their dead with symbolism and ceremony. Further research on the original specimens concluded that Neanderthals walked upright in the same way as modern humans. However, the great illustrator Zdeněk Burian, in the 1960 book Prehistoric Man, still portrayed them as hairy, ape-like throwbacks, in this scene of a Neanderthal encampment.

    1960s – Hirsute

    By the 1980s, Neanderthals had developed in popular culture. In 1980 Jean M. Auel published The Clan of the Cave Bear, the brilliant first book in the Earth’s Children series. The plot centres on the fictional relationship between Ayla, a five-year-old modern human orphan, and the Clan of the Cave Bear, a band of homeless Neanderthals who reluctantly take her in. Exploring the theme of communication, Auel assumes that the Neanderthals lack the full vocal development of modern humans and has the clan using a mixture of gestures and body language to supplement their small vocabulary. Their ability to describe past events and communicate ideas is therefore limited, as is their ability to innovate – talents which come naturally to Ayla. Artist Jay Matternes takes up the theme of communication in his 1982 portrayal of a Neanderthal cave settlement in the Pyrenees. They are still simian-looking, but less hairy, and are sociable and communicative.

    1980s – Communicative

    Even into the 1990s, Neanderthals are still depicted as primitive and functional, as this exhibition in the American Museum of Natural History in New York shows. Its scene of a small group of Neanderthals, camped beneath a rock shelter, is set 50,000 years ago in what is now western France. The museum website concedes that “Neanderthals were probably less brutish and more like modern humans than commonly portrayed,” and that they were, “sophisticated toolmakers and even prepared animal hides, which they used as clothing.”

    1990s – Functional

    Giant strides in our understanding of the Neanderthals came in 1997, when scientists were first able to amplify their mitochondrial DNA using a specimen from the original 1856 site in the Neander Valley. In 2000, the Channel 4 documentary Neanderthal described how they were not covered in thick hair, but wore clothing made of animals skins and were far more sophisticated than popularly believed. The film-makers employed palaeontologists and behavioural experts, as well as latex prosthetic masks and computer technology to recreate the life of a clan of Neanderthals. Professor Chris Stringer was an adviser on the programme and explained that the legend of the hairy caveman was one of many myths that arose from the 1856 discovery, “We didn’t then have the very early fossil record we now possess from Africa, so people tried to place the Neanderthal in the position of ‘the missing link’. We now believe they were simply a different species which evolved quite separately from our ancestors.” The programme depicts the clan members killing a baby because they are desperate for food, and kidnapping a woman from another clan in order to breed. Their linguistic skills are also shown to be equivalent in complexity to a modern human toddler’s baby talk.

    2000 – Robust

    In 2004, a BBC Horizon documentary on Neanderthals claimed to do “something that no one has done before“, to assemble “the first ever complete Neanderthal skeleton, from parts gathered from all over the world, to reveal the most anatomically accurate representation of modern humanity’s closest relative.” One of their aims was to answer the burning question, “was Neanderthal a thinking, feeling human being like us, or a primitive beast?” Their assembled team of leading experts produced “a very different beast to the brute of legend“, which was “in many ways our equal and in some ways our superior.”

    Their recreation brought the Neanderthal to life, “with startling anatomical accuracy.” The skeleton stood no more than 5 feet 4 inches tall, but had an immensely powerful build. The Neanderthal’s rib cage flared out, unlike the modern human’s, meaning that the Neanderthal did not have a waist. Their short compact body and voluminous chest was an adaptation to a cold environment. It supported a thick layer of muscle, giving both strength and insulation. The Neanderthal skull showed that its brain was much bigger than the average modern human’s – around 20% bigger. It showed the same kind of cerebral symmetry, and the shape of its frontal lobe was no different. The overall anatomical similarity suggested that the Neanderthal’s cognitive abilities were the same as the modern human’s. A model of the Neanderthal’s vocal tract showed it to be similar to a modern human female’s and capable of speech.

    The actor that the documentary ‘reconstructed’ with prosthetics to re-enact a male Neanderthal still looks distinctly different to modern humans, but appears thoughtful and intelligent. The same thoughtful countenance appears on the representation of a female Neanderthal used in a TV commercial which aired around the same time. The actress’ prosthetics and make-up were created by SODA, a Danish make-up fx studio, which features the image of the Neanderthal woman in their ‘creatures’ section.

    2004 – Thoughtful

    The 2006 male Neanderthal reconstruction in the Mettmann Neanderthal Museum in Germany also claims to have been “realistically recreated by means of the most up-to-date pathology procedures.” It too is based on the 1856 discovery in the Neander Valley, although a reconstruction of what could be his twin sister is based on a female Neanderthal skull found in Gibraltar. The male Neanderthal, christened ‘Mr N’, is a ‘front man’ for the Museum and his image is most widely used in today’s popular media to illustrate any story connected to Neanderthals. He is clearly a jovial character, with a face to match – the customary large browridge, big nose and weak chin. He also has a curiously shaved hairstyle (a proto-mullet?) and beard.

    2006 – Characterful

    The epitome of modern Neanderthal ‘evolution’ finally comes in 2008 with Elisabeth Daynès‘ quite beautiful recreations. Only subtly distinguishable from modern humans, they clearly reflect a species which, like us, diverged from a common stock and evolved along parallel lines, before their disappearance around 24,000 years ago. They are portrayed as “an intelligent, cultured part of the human family.” With images like these, the news from the Max Planck Institute in 2010 that the two species did interbreed and share DNA is quite believable and acceptable to a modern human society whose belief in its uniqueness as a species is now uncertain.

    2008 – Human

    images – E. Daynès/Reconstruction Atelier Daynès, Paris, featured in The New Yorker

    Who’s to say which artistic rendering above is the most accurate portrayal of the ‘average’ Neanderthal? Research suggests that Neanderthals can be divided into at least 3 ‘racial’ groups (western European, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern and western Asian). Also, less than 400 examples of Homo neanderthalensis have ever been found since the 1856 discovery and none yet include a complete skeleton. You could probably find the same range of phenotypes amongst modern humans in any average town today. The evolution of Neanderthal imagery over the past 100 years actually says more about our own evolution, both in terms of our scientific discovery and in the way we now evaluate ‘primitive’ cultures.

    5 They Gave Us Heart Attacks, Nicotine Addiction and Depression

    Depression, nicotine addiction, and heart attacks are some of the health problems that plague our society today. Though these diseases appear modern, new research from the Vanderbilt University and the University of Washington suggests that these illnesses could have originated from the Neanderthals. The co-author of the study, Joshua Akey, said, &ldquoYou can blame your Neanderthal ancestry a little&mdashbut not too much&mdashfor whatever range of afflictions you have.&rdquo

    Researchers Akey and John Capra made the discovery after examining the medical records and genes of 28,000 people. The records allowed the scientists to determine the health conditions of the subjects, and their genes enabled them to find the DNA that was inherited from the Neanderthals. It was clear that the presence of Neanderthal DNA had slightly increased the subject&rsquos health risks.


    In research published in Nature in 2014, an analysis of radiocarbon dates from forty Neanderthal sites from Spain to Russia found that the Neanderthals disappeared in Europe between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago with 95% probability. The study also found with the same probability that modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped in Europe for between 2,600 and 5,400 years. [1] Modern humans reached Europe between 45,000 and 43,000 years ago. [5] Improved radiocarbon dating published in 2015 indicates that Neanderthals disappeared around 40,000 years ago, which overturns older carbon dating which indicated that Neanderthals may have lived as recently as 24,000 years ago, [6] including in refugia on the south coast of the Iberian peninsula such as Gorham's Cave. [7] Zilhão et al. (2017) argue for pushing this date forward by some 3,000 years, to 37,000 years ago. [2] Inter-stratification of Neanderthal and modern human remains has been suggested, [8] but is disputed. [9] Stone tools that have been proposed to be linked to Neanderthals have been found at Byzovya (ru:Бызовая) in the polar Urals, and dated to 31,000 to 34,000 years ago. [10]

    Violence Edit

    Some authors have discussed the possibility that Neanderthal extinction was either precipitated or hastened by violent conflict with Homo sapiens. Violence in early hunter-gatherer societies usually occurred as a result of resource competition following natural disasters. It is therefore plausible to suggest that violence, including primitive warfare, would have transpired between the two human species. [11] The hypothesis that early humans violently replaced Neanderthals was first proposed by French paleontologist Marcellin Boule (the first person to publish an analysis of a Neanderthal) in 1912. [12]

    Parasites and pathogens Edit

    Another possibility is the spread among the Neanderthal population of pathogens or parasites carried by Homo sapiens. [13] [14] Neanderthals would have limited immunity to diseases they had not been exposed to, so diseases carried into Europe by Homo sapiens could have been particularly lethal to them if Homo sapiens were relatively resistant. If it were relatively easy for pathogens to leap between these two similar species, perhaps because they lived in close proximity, then Homo sapiens would have provided a pool of individuals capable of infecting Neanderthals and potentially preventing the epidemic from burning itself out as Neanderthal population fell. On the other hand, the same mechanism could work in reverse, and the resistance of Homo sapiens to Neanderthal pathogens and parasites would need explanation. However, there is good reason to suppose that the net movement of novel human pathogens would have been overwhelmingly uni-directional, from Africa into the Eurasian landmass. The most common source of novel human pathogens (like HIV1 today) would have been our closest phylogenetic relatives, namely, other primates, of which there were many in Africa but only one known species in Europe, the Barbary Macaque, and only a few species in Southern Asia. As a result, African populations of humans would have been exposed to, and developed resistance to, and become carriers of, more novel pathogens than their Eurasian cousins, with far-reaching consequences. The uni-directional movement of pathogens would have enforced a uni-directional movement of human populations out of Africa and doomed the immunologically naïve indigenous populations of Eurasia whenever they encountered more recent emigrants out of Africa and ensured that Africa remained the crucible of human evolution in spite of the widespread distribution of hominins over the highly variable geography of Eurasia. This putative "African advantage" would have persisted until the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago in Eurasia, after which domesticated animals overtook other primates species as the most common source of novel human pathogens, replacing the "African advantage" with a "Eurasian advantage". The devastating effect of Eurasian pathogens on Native American populations in the historical era gives us some idea of the effect that modern humans may have had on the precursor populations of hominins in Eurasia 40,000 years ago. [14] An examination of human and Neanderthal genomes and adaptations regarding pathogens or parasites may shed further light on this issue.

    Competitive replacement Edit

    Species specific disadvantages Edit

    Slight competitive advantage on the part of modern humans has accounted for Neanderthals' decline on a timescale of thousands of years. [3] [15]

    Generally small and widely-dispersed fossil sites suggest that Neanderthals lived in less numerous and socially more isolated groups than contemporary Homo sapiens. Tools such as Mousterian flint stone flakes and Levallois points are remarkably sophisticated from the outset, yet they have a slow rate of variability and general technological inertia is noticeable during the entire fossil period. Artifacts are of utilitarian nature, and symbolic behavioral traits are undocumented before the arrival of modern humans in Europe around 40,000 to 35,000 years ago. [3] [16] [17]

    The noticeable morphological differences in skull shape between the two human species also have cognitive implications. These include the Neandertals' smaller parietal lobes and cerebellum, areas implicated in tool use, creativity, and higher-order conceptualization. [3] The differences, while slight, would have been visible to natural selection and may underlie and explain the differences in social behaviors, technological innovation, and artistic output. [3]

    Jared Diamond, a supporter of competitive replacement, points out in his book The Third Chimpanzee that the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans is comparable to patterns of behavior that occur whenever people with advanced technology clash with less advanced people. [18]

    Division of labor Edit

    In 2006, two anthropologists of the University of Arizona proposed an efficiency explanation for the demise of the Neanderthals. [19] In an article titled "What's a Mother to Do? The Division of Labor among Neanderthals and Modern Humans in Eurasia", [20] it was posited that Neanderthal division of labor between the sexes was less developed than Middle paleolithic Homo sapiens. Both male and female Neanderthals participated in the single occupation of hunting big game, such as bison, deer, gazelles, and wild horses. This hypothesis proposes that the Neanderthal's relative lack of labor division resulted in less efficient extraction of resources from the environment as compared to Homo sapiens.

    Anatomical differences and running ability Edit

    Researchers such as Karen L. Steudel of the University of Wisconsin have highlighted the relationship of Neanderthal anatomy (shorter and stockier than that of modern humans [ citation needed ] ) and the ability to run and the requirement of energy (30% more). [21] [ failed verification ]

    Nevertheless, in the recent study, researchers Martin Hora and Vladimir Sladek of Charles University in Prague show that Neanderthal lower limb configuration, particularly the combination of robust knees, long heels, and short lower limbs, increased the effective mechanical advantage of the Neanderthal knee and ankle extensors, thus reducing the force needed and the energy spent for locomotion significantly. The walking cost of the Neanderthal male is now estimated to be 8–12% higher than that of anatomically modern males, whereas the walking cost of the Neanderthal female is considered to be virtually equal to that of anatomically modern females. [22]

    Other researchers, like Yoel Rak, from Tel-Aviv University in Israel, have noted that the fossil records show that Neanderthal pelvises in comparison to modern human pelvises would have made it much harder for Neanderthals to absorb shocks and to bounce off from one step to the next, giving modern humans another advantage over Neanderthals in running and walking ability. However, Rak also notes that all archaic humans had wide pelvises, indicating that this is the ancestral morphology and that modern humans underwent a shift towards narrower pelvises in the late Pleistocene. [23]

    Modern humans' advantage in hunting warm climate animals Edit

    Pat Shipman, from Pennsylvania State University in the United States, argues that the domestication of the dog gave modern humans an advantage when hunting. [24] The oldest remains of domesticated dogs were found in Belgium (31,700 BP) and in Siberia (33,000 BP). [25] [26] A survey of early sites of modern humans and Neanderthals with faunal remains across Spain, Portugal and France provided an overview of what modern humans and Neanderthals ate. [27] Rabbit became more frequent, while large mammals – mainly eaten by the Neanderthals – became increasingly rare. In 2013, DNA testing on the "Altai dog", a paleolithic dog's remains from the Razboinichya Cave (Altai Mountains), has linked this 33,000-year-old dog with the present lineage of Canis lupus familiaris. [28]

    Interbreeding Edit

    Interbreeding can only account for a certain degree of Neanderthal population decrease. A homogeneous absorption of an entire species is a rather unrealistic idea. This would also be counter to strict versions of the Recent African Origin, since it would imply that at least part of the genome of Europeans would descend from Neanderthals, whose ancestors left Africa at least 350,000 years ago.

    The most vocal proponent of the hybridization hypothesis is Erik Trinkaus of Washington University. [29] [30] Trinkaus claims various fossils as hybrid individuals, including the "child of Lagar Velho", a skeleton found at Lagar Velho in Portugal. [31] In a 2006 publication co-authored by Trinkaus, the fossils found in 1952 in the cave of Peștera Muierilor, Romania, are likewise claimed as hybrids. [32]

    Genetic studies indicate some form of hybridization between archaic humans and modern humans had taken place after modern humans emerged from Africa. An estimated 1–4% of the DNA in Europeans and Asians (e.g. French, Chinese and Papua probands) is non-modern, and shared with ancient Neanderthal DNA rather than with sub-Saharan Africans (e.g. Yoruba and San probands). [33]

    Modern-human findings in Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Portugal allegedly featuring Neanderthal admixtures have been published. [34] However, the interpretation of the Portuguese specimen is disputed. [35]

    Jordan, in his work Neanderthal, points out that without some interbreeding, certain features on some "modern" skulls of Eastern European Cro-Magnon heritage are hard to explain. In another study, researchers have recently found in Peştera Muierilor, Romania, remains of European humans from

    37,000–42,000 years ago [36] who possessed mostly diagnostic "modern" anatomical features, but also had distinct Neanderthal features not present in ancestral modern humans in Africa, including a large bulge at the back of the skull, a more prominent projection around the elbow joint, and a narrow socket at the shoulder joint.

    The Neanderthal genome project published papers in 2010 and 2014 stating that Neanderthals contributed to the DNA of modern humans, including most humans outside sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a few populations in sub-Saharan Africa, through interbreeding, likely between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. [37] [38] [39] Recent studies also show that a few Neanderthals began mating with ancestors of modern humans long before the large "out of Africa migration" of the present day non-Africans, as early as 100,000 years ago. [40] In 2016, research indicated that there were three distinct episodes of interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals: the first encounter involved the ancestors of non-African modern humans, probably soon after leaving Africa the second, after the ancestral Melanesian group had branched off (and subsequently had a unique episode of interbreeding with Denisovans) and the third, involving the ancestors of East Asians only. [41]

    While interbreeding is viewed as the most parsimonious interpretation of the genetic discoveries, the authors point out they cannot conclusively rule out an alternative scenario, in which the source population of non-African modern humans was already more closely related to Neanderthals than other Africans were, due to ancient genetic divisions within Africa. Among the genes shown to differ between present-day humans and Neanderthals were RPTN, SPAG17, CAN15, TTF1 and PCD16.

    Climate change Edit

    Neanderthals went through a demographic crisis in Western Europe that seems to coincide with climate change that resulted in a period of extreme cold in Western Europe. "The fact that Neanderthals in Western Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us," said Love Dalén, associate professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. If so, this would indicate that Neanderthals may have been very sensitive to climate change. [42]

    Natural catastrophe Edit

    A number of researchers have argued that the Campanian Ignimbrite Eruption, a volcanic eruption near Naples, Italy, about 39,280 ± 110 years ago (older estimate

    37,000 years), erupting about 200 km 3 (48 cu mi) of magma (500 km 3 (120 cu mi) bulk volume) contributed to the extinction of Neanderthal man. [43] The argument has been developed by Golovanova et al. [44] [45] The hypothesis posits that although Neanderthals had encountered several Interglacials during 250,000 years in Europe, [46] inability to adapt their hunting methods caused their extinction facing H. sapiens competition when Europe changed into a sparsely vegetated steppe and semi-desert during the last Ice Age. [47] Studies of sediment layers at Mezmaiskaya Cave suggest a severe reduction of plant pollen. [45] The damage to plant life would have led to a corresponding decline in plant-eating mammals hunted by the Neanderthals. [45] [48] [49]

    Other important Neanderthal fossils

    • Gibraltar 1 skull
      This skull belonged to a Neanderthal female and was found at Forbes' Quarry in Gibraltar in 1848. It is the first adult Neanderthal skull ever found, although it wasn't recognised as such until it was re-examined after the identification of the Neander Valley skeleton.

    • Sima de los Huesos human remains
      Since 1976 over 6,500 human fossils, representing about 28 individuals, have been recovered in the Sima de los Huesos ('Pit of the Bones') in Atapuerca in northern Spain. The human remains consist of jumbled partial or nearly complete skeletons, mainly those of adolescents and young adults.

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

    One of the Sima de los Huesos skulls © UtaUtaNapishtim licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons

    • Swanscombe skull
      This fossil from the Thames valley in England is in fact the back half of a braincase. It dates from a warm interglacial period about 400,000 years ago. It is generally regarded as belonging to an early Neanderthal woman. Her brain left its mark on the surrounding bone. Faint impressions of folds and blood vessels show it was the same size as human brains today, but shaped slightly differently.

    The 400,000-year-old partial skull from Swanscombe in Kent, thought to belong to an early Neanderthal woman

    • Devil's Tower Neanderthal fossils
      Five skull fragments belonging to a young Neanderthal child were unearthed at the Devil's Tower site in Gibraltar in 1926. The child was probably nearly five years old when it died.
    • The Steinheim cranium
      Like the Sima de los Huesos skulls, the Steinheim cranium found in Germany in 1933 and estimated to be 250,000-350,000 years old is currently considered to belong to an early Neanderthal. Its overall shape is comparable to the Sima and Swanscombe skulls and, like them, it possesses the suprainiac fossa.

    This article includes information from Our Human Story by Dr Louise Humphrey and Prof Chris Stringer.

    Fascinated by our ancient relatives?

    Over the past 25 years there has been an explosion of species' names in the story of human evolution. Drawing on their considerable expertise, Prof Chris Stringer and Dr Louise Humphrey have brought us an essential guide to our fossil relatives.

    Watch the video: Οι Βρετανοί συναντούν τους προϊστορικούς προγόνους τους - le mag


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