Recent studies of the human genome show evidence that Humans and Neanderthals interbred. In 2011, a German team concluded that between 1% and 4% of the genome of all non-African populations today is derived from Neanderthals. This led to speculation that early Human males may have kept Neanderthal women as sex-slaves, but seeing that the Neanderthals were so much stronger than Humans, it seems to us just as likely that it was the other way around.
Neanderthals lived in Kent around 100,000 years ago.
The use of the word ‘Neanderthal’ to mean ‘ill-mannered’ or ‘stupid’ appears to involve an injustice to Neanderthals, who used tools, wore body ornaments, had religious rites, buried their dead and could probably talk this has been suspected since it was established that they had a hyoid bone, the small bone which holds the root of the human tongue in place. Their genome, which has only just been analysed, confirms that they had a gene very similar to one found in modern humans which affects language. The shape of their throat implies that they were only able to make a limited number of sounds, though.
Homo is the genus that includes modern humans: H. sapiens sapiens. The genus has existed for a little over two million years. The exact number of homo species is fiercely debated – some are known only from a single skull specimen - but around a dozen are currently accepted. All are extinct bar H. sapiens sapiens, which is considered to be a subspecies of the archaic H. sapiens, a species that included neanderthalis and heidelbergensis.
Homo habilis (or Handy Man) was the first known homo to evolve in Africa. The main line then appears to go: H. ergaster, H. antecessor, H. heidelbergensis and then us. H. neanderthalensis is a cousin – an offshoot from the main trunk – as is H. erectus. The latest addition, H. floriensis, the ‘hobbit’ discovered in Flores in 2003, is also considered a cousin, although some believe they were an isolated community of H. sapiens suffering from pathological dwarfism. Animals left on islands without their usual predators or prey can develop gigantism or dwarfism.
There are also H. rudolfensis, georgicus, rhodesiensis and perhaps others. H. ceptranensis is known only from part of a single skull.
Neanderthal man is named after the Neandertal Valley near Düsseldorf, where fossilized remains were found in 1856. Cro-Magnon man is named after an 1868 find at a site in France (the Abri de Crô-Magnon).
There are more people living in caves now than at any other time in history.
There was no difference between what Neanderthals and modern humans could do. Both of them were wolves with knives.
Very few Neanderthals lived past the age of 35.
Cro-Magnon Humans and Neanderthals diverged into separate species between 440,000 and 270,000 years ago, but lived alongside each other in Europe for thousands of years until the Neanderthals became extinct some 30,000 years ago. The nature of their co-existence and the reason for the eventual disappearance of the Neanderthals are matters of debate: suggestions have included peaceful co-existence, competition, interbreeding, assimilation and genocide. The recent tendency has been towards the view that Neanderthals were not out-competed by Humans, so much as that they failed to adapt to changes in the environment during the ice age (during which Europe became a sparsely-vegetated semi-desert). They couldn’t run as fast as Humans, and were shorter and less adept at using tools. The last Neanderthal community we know of ended its days in Gibraltar. Early Neanderthals moved into northern Europe much sooner than Sapiens did, and lived there for four times as long as modern humans have done to date.
One place that contains fossils of both species is in the Middle East from around 60,000 years ago. What is interesting is that our direct ancestors soon left the area while the Neanderthals stayed for thousands of years. This implies to some that in this particular context the Neanderthals were actually the ‘stronger species’ for some reason. Joao Zilhao at the University of Bristol goes one further. According to his research the oldest known shell ornaments in Europe were made by Neanderthals; he wonders if humans could have learned ritual and hence culture from our much-maligned cousins.
The main reason for the unfair reputation that Neanderthals have traditionally had is that the first reconstruction of Homo neanderthalensis was assembled incorrectly. It was done by French palaeontologist Pierre Marcellin Boule in about 1911. He created a specimen with a curved spine, a stooped stance and forward flexed hips, bent knees and a head jutting forwards. He also gave it an opposable big toe like a great ape even though there was nothing in the bones to support this interpretation.
In 1957 the skeleton was re-examined and the reason for the posture became clear – the skeleton's owner had a grossly deforming form of osteoarthritis. Modern reconstructions have Neanderthals looking very much like humans. If we gave one a haircut and put it in a modern dress then it wouldn't look too out of place on a bus.
Neanderthals had barrel-shaped chests and broad, projecting noses - traits some paleoanthropologists believe would have helped them breathe more easily when chasing prey in cold environments. They had bigger brains than modern humans. They are often portrayed as red-haired, but it's likely that they had the whole range of hair colours we see today in European populations.
They were exceptionally strong as they were hand-to-hand hunters rather than toolmakers; it is suggested that Neanderthal women hunted large animals alongside the males (unlike H. sapiens females); young Neanderthal girls had bigger biceps than male H. sapiens of today.
Neanderthals brushed their teeth.
Neanderthals were lactose intolerant.
Studies of fossillized Neanderthal poo show that Neanderthal man subsisted more or less entirely on meat.
Unlike early humans, Neanderthals buried their dead. That's why we have so many good examples of them in the fossil record.
The scientists who examined the bones of the first Neanderthal, rejected them as belonging to a Cossack who had crawled into the cave to die.
Recent archaeological finds suggest that Neanderthals used feathers for personal decoration.
I bet when neanderthal kids would make a snowman, someone would always end up saying, 'Don't forget the thick, heavy brows.' Then they would get all embarrassed because they remembered they had the big husky brows too, and they'd get mad and eat the snowman.
The oldest known murder cold case is that of a 430,000 year old Neanderthal.