Species of the human genus (Homo) that inhabited much of Europe and the Mediterranean lands circa 200,000–28,000 years ago. The name derives from the discovery in 1856 of remains in a cave above Germany's Neander Valley. Some scholars designate the species as Homo neanderthalensis and do not consider Neanderthals direct ancestors of modern humans (
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The Neanderthal (also with /niː-/ and /-θɔːl/), or Neandertal, is an extinct member of the Homo genus that is known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia. Neanderthals are either classified as a subspecies of humans (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) or as a separate species (Homo neanderthalensis). The first proto-Neanderthal traits appeared in Europe as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago. Proto-Neanderthal traits are occasionally grouped to another cladistic 'species', Homo heidelbergensis, or a migrant form, Homo rhodesiensis. 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 30,000 years ago. 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 32,000 and 33,000 years ago. No definite specimens younger than 30,000 years ago have been found. Modern human skeletal remains with 'Neanderthal traits' were found in Lagar Velho (Portugal), dated to 24,500 years ago and 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 was much larger than modern humans, indicating their brain size may have been larger. They were almost exclusively carnivorous and apex predators. On average, the height of Neanderthals was comparable to contemporaneous homo sapiens. Neanderthal males stood about 165–168 cm tall (about 5'5") and were heavily built with robust bone structure. They were much stronger, having particularly strong arms and hands. Females stood about 152–156 cm tall (about 5'1").
The Neandertal was named after theologian Joachim Neander, who lived nearby in Düsseldorf in the late Seventeenth Century. "Neander" is a classicized form of the common German surname Neumann. In turn, Neanderthals were named after "Neander Valley", where the first Neanderthal remains were found. The term Neanderthal Man was coined in 1863 by Anglo-Irish geologist William Dufis.
The original German pronunciation (regardless of spelling) is with the sound /t/. In American English, the term is commonly anglicised to /θ/ (th as in thin), though scientists usually use /t/, and the latter, non-anglicised, pronunciation (followed by the German long a) is preferred in British English.
For some time, professionals debated whether Neanderthals should be classified as Homo neanderthalensis or as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, the latter placing Neanderthals as a subspecies of Homo sapiens. Genetic statistical calculation (2006 results) suggests at least 5% of the modern human gene pool can be attributed to ancient admixture, with the European contribution being from the Neanderthal. Some morphological studies support that Homo neanderthalensis is a separate species and not a subspecies. Some suggest inherited admixture. Others, for example University of Cambridge Professor Paul Mellars, say "no evidence has been found of cultural interaction and evidence from mitochondrial DNA studies have been interpreted as evidence Neanderthals were not a subspecies of H. sapiens. Homo sapiens mtDNA from Australia (Mungo Man 40ky ) is also not found in recent human genomic pool and mtDNA sequences for temporally comparative African specimens are not yet available.
The type specimen, dubbed Neanderthal 1, consisted of a skull cap, two femora, three bones from the right arm, two from the left arm, part of the left ilium, fragments of a scapula, and ribs. The workers who recovered this material originally thought it to be the remains of a bear. They gave the material to amateur naturalist Johann Carl Fuhlrott, who turned the fossils over to anatomist Hermann Schaaffhausen. The discovery was jointly announced in 1857.
The original Neanderthal discovery is now considered the beginning of paleoanthropology. These and other discoveries led to the idea that these remains were from ancient Europeans who had played an important role in modern human origins. The bones of over 400 Neanderthals have been found since.
Neanderthals had more robust build and distinctive morphological features, especially of the cranium, which gradually accumulated more derived aspects, particularly in certain relatively isolated geographic regions. Evidence suggests they were much stronger than modern humans; their relatively robust stature is thought to be an adaptation to the cold climate of Europe during the Pleistocene epoch.
A 2007 study suggested some Neanderthals may have had red hair and pale skin color.
The magnitude of autapomorphic traits in specimens differ in time. In the latest specimens, autapomorphy is fuzzy. The following is a list of physical traits which distinguish Neanderthals from modern humans; however, not all of them can be used to distinguish specific Neanderthal populations, from various geographic areas or periods of evolution, from other extinct humans. Also, many of these traits occasionally manifest in modern humans, particularly among certain ethnic groups traced to neanderthal habitad ranges. Nothing is certain (from unearthed bones) about the shape of soft parts such as eyes, ears, and lips of Neanderthals.
When comparing traits to worldwide average present day human traits in Neanderthal specimens, the following traits are distinguished. The magnitude on particular trait changes with 300,000 years timeline.
Svante Pääbo has tested more than 70 Neanderthal specimens and found only one which had enough DNA to sample. Preliminary DNA sequencing from a 38,000-year-old bone fragment of a femur found at Vindija cave, Croatia, in 1980 shows that Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens share about 99.5% of their DNA. From mtDNA analysis estimates, the two species shared a common ancestor about 500,000 years ago. An article appearing in the journal Nature has calculated the species diverged about 516,000 years ago, whereas fossil records show a time of about 400,000 years ago. From DNA records, scientists hope to falsify or confirm the theory that there was interbreeding between the species. A 2007 study pushes the point of divergence back to around 800,000 years ago.
Edward Rubin of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California states that recent genome testing of Neanderthals suggests human and Neanderthal DNA are some 99.5 percent to nearly 99.9 percent identical.
On November 16, 2006, Science Daily published an interview that suggested that Neanderthals and ancient humans probably did not interbreed. Edward M. Rubin, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Joint Genome Institute (JGI), sequenced a fraction (0.00002) of genomic nuclear DNA (nDNA) from a 38,000-year-old Vindia Neanderthal femur bone. They calculated the common ancestor to be about 353,000 years ago, and a complete separation of the ancestors of the species about 188,000 years ago. Their results show the genomes of modern humans and Neanderthals are at least 99.5% identical, but despite this genetic similarity, and despite the two species having coexisted in the same geographic region for thousands of years, Rubin and his team did not find any evidence of any significant crossbreeding between the two. Rubin said, “While unable to definitively conclude that interbreeding between the two species of humans did not occur, analysis of the nuclear DNA from the Neanderthal suggests the low likelihood of it having occurred at any appreciable level.”
A main proponent of the interbreeding hypothesis is Erik Trinkaus of Washington University. In a 2006 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Trinkaus and his co-authors report a possibility that Neanderthals and humans did interbreed. The study claims to settle the extinction controversy; according to researchers, the human and neanderthal populations blended together through sexual reproduction. Trinkaus states, "Extinction through absorption is a common phenomenon. and "From my perspective, the replacement vs. continuity debate that raged through the 1990s is now dead".
Recently, Richard E. Green et al. from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology published the full sequence of Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and suggested that "Neandertals had a long-term effective population size smaller than that of modern humans." While reporting in Nature Journal about the same publication, James Morgan asserted that the mtDNA sequence contained clues that Neanderthals lived in "small and isolated populations, and probably did not interbreed with their human neighbours."
There is a possibility Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons interbred but left little genetic evidence. There is an ongoing debate about whether the hunter-gatherers of the middle stone age started farming when they came in contact with agriculture, or were completely replaced by the farmers moving in from the Middle East. If modern Europeans are mainly descendants of these farming people with little or no genetic input from the foragers of the middle stone age, then possible interbreeding between them and the Neanderthals would not have had a great effect on the modern gene pool.
The case for sexual reproduction recently revived by studies that claim signs of admixture (introgression), finding unusually deep genealogies in highly divergent clades (genetic branches). The genetic variation at the microcephalin gene, a critical regulator of brain size whose loss-of-function by damaging mutations may also cause primary microcephaly, is claimed to be the most compelling evidence of admixture thus far. One type of the gene, dubbed haplogroup D, having an exceptionally high worldwide frequency (about 70%), was shown to have a remarkably young coalescence age to its most recent common ancestor around 37,000 years ago. The remaining types (non-D) coalesce to approximately 990,000 years ago, while the separation time between D and non-D was estimated at some 1,100,000 years ago. An evolutionary advance was assumed, even though positive selection was never as all-decisive as to wipe out the remaining 30% of non-D haplogroups (in which case no introgression could have been suggested) and as for now, a measurable genetic advance has not been attested. Both the worldwide frequency distribution of the D allele, exceptionally high outside of Africa but low in sub-Saharan Africa (29%) that suggests involvement of an archaic Eurasian population, and current estimates of the divergence time between modern humans and Neanderthals based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), are in favor of the Neanderthal lineage as the most likely archaic Homo population from which introgression into the modern human gene pool took place.
The morphology of the outer and middle ear of Neanderthal ancestors, Homo heidelbergensis, found in Spain, suggests they had an auditory sensitivity similar to modern humans and very different from chimpanzees. They were probably able to differentiate between many different sounds.
Neurological evidence for potential speech in neanderthalensis exists in the form of the hypoglossal canal. The canal of neanderthalensis is the same size or larger than in modern humans, which are significantly larger than the canal of australopithecines and modern chimpanzees. The canal carries the hypoglossal nerve, which controls the muscles of the tongue. This indicates that neanderthalensis had vocal capabilities similar to modern humans. A research team from the University of California, Berkeley, led by David DeGusta, suggests that the size of the hypoglossal canal is not an indicator of speech. His team's research, which shows no correlation between canal size and speech potential, shows there are a number of extant non-human primates and fossilized australopithecines which have equal or larger hypoglossal canal.
Another anatomical difference between Neanderthals and Modern humans is their lack of a mental protuberance (the point at the tip of the chin). This may be relevant to speech as the mentalis muscle contributes to moving the lower lip and is used to voice a bilabial click. While some Neanderthal individuals do possess a mental protuberance, their chins never show the inverted T-shape of modern humans. In contrast, some Neanderthal individuals show inferior lateral mental tubercles (little bumps at the side of the chin). A recent extraction of DNA from Neanderthal bones indicates that Neanderthals had the same version of the FOXP2 gene as modern humans. This gene is known to play a role in human language..
Steven Mithen (2006) proposes that the Neanderthals had an elaborate proto-linguistic system of communication which was more musical than modern human language, and which predated the separation of language and music into two separate modes of cognition.
Neanderthal and Middle Paleolithic archaeological sites show a smaller and different toolkit than those which have been found in Upper Paleolithic sites, which were perhaps occupied by modern humans which superseded them. Fossil evidence indicating who may have made the tools found in Early Upper Paleolithic sites is still missing.
Neanderthals are thought to have used tools of the Mousterian class, which were often produced using soft hammer percussion, with hammers made of materials like bones, antlers, and wood, rather than hard hammer percussion, using stone hammers. A result of this is that their bone industry was relatively simple. However, there is good evidence that they routinely constructed a variety of stone implements. Neanderthal (Mousterian) tools most often consisted of sophisticated stone-flakes, task-specific hand axes, and spears. Many of these tools were very sharp. There is also good evidence that they used a lot of wood, objects which are unlikely to have been preserved until today. Also, while they had weapons, whether they had implements which were used as projectile weapons is controversial. They had spears, made of long wooden shafts with spearheads firmly attached, but they are thought by some to have been thrusting spears. Still, a Levallois point embedded in a vertebra shows an angle of impact suggesting that it entered by a "parabolic trajectory" suggesting that it was the tip of a projectile. Moreover, a number of 400,000 year old wooden projectile spears were found at Schöningen in northern Germany. These are thought to have been made by the Neanderthal's ancestors, Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis. Generally, projectile weapons are more commonly associated with H. sapiens. The lack of projectile weaponry is an indication of different sustenance methods, rather than inferior technology or abilities. The situation is identical to that of native New Zealand Maori - modern Homo sapiens, who also rarely threw objects, but used spears and clubs instead.
Although much has been made of the Neanderthal's burial of their dead, their burials were less elaborate than those of anatomically modern humans. The interpretation of the Shanidar IV burials as including flowers, and therefore being a form of ritual burial, has been questioned. On the other hand, five of the six flower pollens found with Shanidar IV are known to have had 'traditional' medical uses, even among relatively recent 'modern' populations. In some cases Neanderthal burials include grave goods, such as bison and aurochs bones, tools, and the pigment ochre.
Neanderthals also performed many sophisticated tasks which are normally associated only with humans. For example, it is known that they controlled fire, constructed complex shelters, and skinned animals. A trap excavated at La Cotte de St Brelade in Jersey gives testament to their intelligence and success as hunters .
Particularly intriguing is a hollowed-out bear femur with holes which may have been deliberately bored into it. This bone was found in western Slovenia in 1995, near a Mousterian fireplace, but its significance is still a matter of dispute. Some paleoanthropologists have hypothesized that it was a flute, while others believe it was created by accident through the chomping action of another bear. See: Divje Babe.
Pendants and other jewelry showing traces of ochre dye and of deliberate grooving have also been found with later finds, particularly in France but whether or not they were created by Neanderthals or traded to them by Cro-Magnons is a matter of controversy.
Early Neanderthals lived in the Last Glacial age for a span of about 100,000 years. Because of the damaging effects which the glacial period had on the Neanderthal sites, not much is known about the early species. Countries where their remains are known include Portugal, France and Spain, Britain , Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Iran, Romania and Russia. Classic Neanderthal fossils have been found over a large area, from northern Germany to Israel and Mediterranean countries like Spain and Italy in the south and from England in the west to Uzbekistan in the east. This area probably was not occupied all at the same time; the northern border of their range in particular would have contracted frequently with the onset of cold periods. On the other hand, the northern border of their range as represented by fossils may not be the real northern border of the area they occupied, since Middle-Palaeolithic looking artifacts have been found even further north, up to 60° on the Russian plain. Recent evidence has extended the Neanderthal range by about east into southern Siberia's Altay Mountains.
Possible hypotheses for the fate of Neanderthals include the following:
Modern human findings in Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Portugal of 24,500 years ago, allegedly featuring Neanderthal admixtures, have been published.However the interpretation of the Portuguese specimen is disputed. In another study, researchers have recently found in Pestera Muierii, Romania, remains of European humans from 30 kya who possessed mostly diagnostic "modern" anatomical features, but also had distinct Neanderthal features not present in ancestral modern humans in Africa, including a large bulge at the back of the skull, a more prominent projection around the elbow joint, and a narrow socket at the shoulder joint. Analysis of one skeleton's shoulder showed that these humans, like Neanderthal, did not have the full capability for throwing spears.
The paleontological analysis of modern human emergence in Europe has been shifting from considerations of the Neanderthals to assessments of the biology and chronology of the earliest modern humans in western Eurasia. This focus, involving morphologically modern humans before 28,000 years ago shows accumulating evidence that they present a variable mosaic of derived modern human, archaic human, and Neanderthal features.
Neanderthal bones from various sites (Combe-Grenal and Abri Moula in France, Krapina in Croatia and Grotta Guattari in Italy) have all been cited as bearing cut marks made by stone tools. However, results of technological tests reveal varied causes.
Re-evaluation of these marks using high-powered microscopes, comparisons to contemporary butchered animal remains and recent ethnographic cases of excarnation mortuary practises have shown that perhaps this was a case of ritual defleshing.
The evidence indicating cannibalism would not distinguish Neanderthals from modern Homo sapiens. Ancient and existing Homo sapiens, including the Korowai, are known to have practiced cannibalism and/or mortuary defleshing.
Grooves in bones are hypothesized to be cuts by Neanderthal tools, not animal teeth. The chances of them being random, as some writers attributing them to animals have proposed, is debated.
In the Thursday Next series of novels by Jasper Fforde, a small population of Neanderthals were re-created in modern Britain by advanced cloning techniques in the early years of the twenthieth century. These fictional Neanderthals have equivalent intelligence to normal humans, but have a radically different culture in which agression and competition are virtually unthinkable.
Although frequently characterized as dumb brutes, research showing Neanderthals were as intelligent as contemporaneous Homo sapiens, with early stone tool technologies of comparable efficiency, is debunking long-held beliefs.
Solecki, Ralph S. "Shanidar." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. 2007. Grolier Online. 25 Nov. 2007
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