Are Neanderthals the Missing Link Between Man and Apes?
Neanderthals evolved from early Homo along a path
similar to Homo sapiens, both deriving from a chimp-like ancestor
between five and 10 million years ago.
Neanderthal skulls were first discovered in Engis, in what is now Belgium (1829) and in Forbes' Quarry, Gibraltar (1848).
The original Neanderthal discovery is now considered the beginning of
paleoanthropology. These and other discoveries led to the idea these
remains were from ancient Europeans who had played an important role in
modern human origins.
In 1848 a strange skull was discovered on the military outpost of
Gibraltar. It was undoubtedly human, but also had some of the heavy
features of an ape... distinct brow ridges, and a forward projecting
face. Just what was this ancient creature? And when had it lived?
more remains were discovered one thing became clear, this creature had
once lived right across Europe. The remains were named Homo
neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man) an ancient and primitive form of
The archaeological evidence revealed that the earliest
Neanderthals had lived in Europe about 200,000 years ago. But then,
about 30,000 years ago, they disappeared... just at the time when the
first modern humans appear in Europe.
The story has it that our
ancestors, modern humans, spread out of Africa about 100,000 years ago
with better brains and more sophisticated tools. As they spread into
Neanderthal territory, they simply out-competed their primitive cousins.
was Neanderthal really the brutish ape-man of legend, or an effective
rival to our own species?
And how exactly had he been driven to
What could be found out about this remarkable evolution from
the bones themselves?
To begin the investigation a skeleton was needed,
and no complete Neanderthal had ever been found.
reconstruction expert at The American Museum of Natural History in New
York realised that it would be possible to create an entire composite
skeleton from casts of partial skeletons. Gary Sawyer combined and
rebuilt broken parts to create the most complete Neanderthal ever seen.
This Neanderthal stood no more than 1.65m (5' 4") tall, but he had a
robust and powerful build - perfect for his Ice Age environment. But
would he have stood up to the cold better than modern humans?
Neanderthal man 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 of modern humans or as a separate human species.
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.
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.
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.
The Neanderthal Man
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.
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.
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.
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.
Females stood about 152–156 cm (60–61 in) tall. 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 and apex predators.