In popular culture, the term Neanderthal is used as a colloquial insult for a degenerate or someone perceived as stupid. This seems to have been the case even from the first recognition of the Neanderthals as a species. The first Neanderthal fossil discovery was that of a child’s skull in Belgium in 1829, but it was badly damaged. Another would be discovered in 1856 in a limestone mine of the Neanderthal region of what is present-day Germany, and a skull with differing distinct traits (indicating a different species than the Neanderthals) would be discovered just over a decade later in southwestern France. The latter specimen would come to be recognized as an example of the species Homo Sapiens, and these anatomically modern humans arrived in Europe between 45,000 and 43,000 years ago, around the time the Neanderthals are believed to have started going extinct.
The Neanderthals are a member of the genus Homo just like Homo sapiens and share roughly 99.7 percent of their DNA with modern humans (Reynolds and Gallagher 2012). Both species even lived briefly during the same time in Eurasia. However, the Neanderthals evolved separately in Europe, away from modern humans, who evolved in Africa.
Physically, the Neanderthal skeleton was much more robust, suggesting that there was more room for muscle attachment. However, while Neanderthals were stronger than modern humans, the average height of the Neanderthal male was shorter, standing at only about 5’5 tall. Other physical characteristics that set the Neanderthals apart from modern humans were certain skull traits. The skull in general was low and elongated, featuring a sloping forehead with an occipital bun (a bone projection at the back of the skull), whereas modern humans have a more vertical forehead with no occipital bun.
Learn more about the Neanderthals in this educational and illuminating audiobook about the evolution of the Neanderthals and the theories regarding how they went extinct.
©2018 Charles River Editors (P)2018 Charles River Editors