The Elements of Evolution (61-17) Neanderthal


The Neanderthals trod lightly and relied as much on their powers of observation and quiet imprint on the land as they did on their technology. ~ English anthropologist Brian Fagan

Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) (800–45 TYA) were modern humans’ closest relative, living in Europe and western Asia. No Neanderthal fossils have been found in Africa.

Descending from H. habilis or H. erectus, who arrived in Europe well over 1 MYA, Neanderthals arose during glacial cold, then lived through severely variable climes that made for tough times. Neanderthals occupied a broad swath stretching from Portugal to Uzbekistan.

Other hominin species lived near Neanderthal. In a case of convergent evolution, the African H. rhodesiensis evolved separately from the Eurasian H. neanderthalensis.

Neanderthals evolved in fits and starts, which was typical of hominins. Neanderthals adapted first to diet and climate early on. Incremental brain changes came later, convergently independent of the human lineage.

Though similar to Homo sapiens, Neanderthal were slightly shorter and more robust: muscular, barrel-chested, with stocky limbs that conserved body heat. Like modern humans, most Neanderthals were right-handed.

Neanderthal bodies were better adapted for a colder climate than earlier African hominids. But more than build was required to endure frosty weather.

Long distance running adaptively evolved in African hominins, where the savanna made it advantageous. In contrast, Neanderthals were better built for hiking in the woods. Like some lemurs, baboons, and other hominins, Neanderthals lived in caves and rock fissures where available. They resided in homes with a hearth.

Neanderthals had mastery over fire. They wore animal pelts to keep them warm.

Unlike their African ancestors and later cousins, some Neanderthal had pale skin, blue eyes, and blond or red hair. Less skin pigmentation helps absorb vitamin D in places with lower sun exposure.

There is no reason to assume that the biological differences between Neanderthals and modern humans necessarily translated into differences between their intellectual capacities. ~ Spanish anthropologist Camilo Cela-Conde & Spanish-American biologist Francisco Ayala

Neanderthals were tribal, with strong family groups, often patrilocal: males stayed with the group, while women moved into another family.

Neanderthals conversed with each other, had language and culture. They decorated themselves with ornaments and jewelry, probably wore makeup, possibly tattooed themselves.

Neanderthals made etches with the intent of creating a visually harmonious and symbolic motif. ~ Italian paleontologist Francesco d’Errico

Neanderthal artifacts show appreciation of symbolism. Neanderthal created rock art in caves, depicting both representational and abstract designs. Music was part of Neanderthal culture. A Neanderthal bone flute was found that may be as old as 82,000 years. They had rituals. Neanderthals buried their dead in their caves, which implies belief in something beyond the mortal coil.

The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there. The conventional view of Neanderthals is not true. ~ Italian anthropologist Paola Villa