The Neanderthal (short for Neanderthal man, pronounced /ni?'ænd?rt??l/, /ni?'ænd?rθ??l/ or /ne?'ænd?rt??l/ in English; sometimes spelled Neandertal) is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia. Neanderthals are classified either as a subspecies (or race) of modern humans (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) or as a separate human species (Homo neanderthalensis).[1]

The first proto-Neanderthal traits appeared in Europe as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago.[2] Proto-Neanderthal traits are occasionally grouped with another phenetic 'species', Homo heidelbergensis, or a migrant form, Homo rhodesiensis.

By 130,000 years ago, complete Neanderthal characteristics had appeared. These characteristics then disappeared in Asia by 50,000 years ago and in Europe by about 30,000 years ago, with no further individuals having enough Neanderthal morphological traits to be considered as part of Homo neanderthalensis.[3][not in citation given]

Genetic evidence suggests interbreeding took place with Homo sapiens (anatomically modern humans) between roughly 80,000 and 50,000 years ago in the Middle East, resulting in 1–4% of the genome of people from Eurasia having been contributed by Neanderthals.[4][5]

The youngest Neanderthal finds include Hyaena Den (UK), considered older than 30,000 years ago, while the Vindija (Croatia) Neanderthals have been re-dated to between 33,000 and 32,000 years ago. No definite specimens younger than 30,000 years ago have been found; however, evidence of fire by Neanderthals at Gibraltar indicate they may have survived there until 24,000 years ago. Cro-Magnon or early modern human skeletal remains with 'Neanderthal traits' were found in Lagar Velho (Portugal), dated to 24,500 years ago and controversially interpreted as indications of extensively admixed populations.[6]

Neanderthal stone tools provide further evidence for their presence where skeletal remains have not been found. The last traces of Mousterian culture, a type of stone tools associated with Neanderthals, were found in Gorham's Cave on the remote south-facing coast of Gibraltar.[7] Other tool cultures sometimes associated with Neanderthal include Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, and Gravettian, with the latter extending to 22,000 years ago, the last indication of Neanderthal presence.

Neanderthal cranial capacity is thought to have been as large as that of a Homo sapiens, perhaps larger, indicating their brain size may have been comparable, as well. In 2008, a group of scientists created a study using three-dimensional computer-assisted reconstructions of Neanderthal infants based on fossils found in Russia and Syria, showing that they had brains as large as modern humans' at birth and larger than modern humans' as adults.[8] On average, the height of Neanderthals was comparable to contemporaneous Homo sapiens. Neanderthal males stood about 165–168 cm (65–66 in), and were heavily built with robust bone structure. They were much stronger than Homo sapiens, having particularly strong arms and hands.[9] Females stood about 152–156 cm (60–61 in) tall.[10]

In 2010 a U.S. researcher reported finding cooked plant matter in the teeth of a Neanderthal skull, contradicting the earlier belief they were exclusively (or almost exclusively) carnivorous[11] and apex predators.[12][not in citation given][13]

Copyright © 2006-17 Claud "Sonny" Rouch, all rights reserved. Website by OACYS Technology. Cover photo by Roberts Engineering.