Human Origins - Who Were The Neanderthals?

Human Origins - Who Were The Neanderthals?

Neanderthals lives relatively recently, from 130 000 - 24 000 years ago. Because of this, researchers know more about them then they do about other archaic hominins, and in particular their anatomy and material culture. Also, because DNA survives for up to 130 000 years, scientists have been able to analyze their genetic makeup.

The first Neanderthal fossils were discovered in 1856 in the Feldhover Cave in Germany's Neander Valley. Since then many more Neanderthal fossils have been recovered all over Europe and western Asia. The most famous of these sites include La Chapelle-aux-Saints and La Ferrassie in France, Shanidar in Iraq, and Amud and Kebara in Israel. Even though anatomical, cultural, and genetic differences between Neanderthals and modern humans have been closely analyzed, paleoanthropologists are still divided in their opinion as to whether Neanderthals interbred with early modern humans and thus belong to the same species(Homo sapiens), or whether they should be categorized into their own species.(Homo neanderthalensis).

Neanderthal remains consists of both primitive and derived skeletal features. Primitive features resemble the traits of a species' ancestors, and it includes a long, low cranium, a projecting face, and a mandible(jawbone) which has no chin. (Chins are only found in modern humans). Derived conditions have evolved away from the ancestors and include a large brain(in fact larger than the modern human brain) and a bulge at the back of the cranium called an optical bun.

Neanderthals were powerfully built and their skeletons were of thick bones. It's limbs were quite short which means it was adapted for cold and built to conserve body heat. Bone analysis have also suggested that the Neanderthal was a hunter and it's diet consisted mostly of meat. They were most probably hunting big game as well.

Neanderthals used something called Mousterian tools which were complex and required much more planning and cognitive skills than previous tool-producing techniques. Some of the more recent Neanderthal sites on Europe contain an even more advanced blade-based technology known as Chatelperronian industry. To make this kind of blades made from thin flakes of stone, it wasn't enough to just strike two rocks together. Instead, they used a hammerstone and a piece of bone which resembled a chisel to apply the exact force necessary to remove the prepared flake.


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    Source: The Bedside Baccalaureate

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