Range of Neanderthals

Neanderthals lived primarily in Europe and the Middle East. Their remains have been found as far east as Iraq, Siberia and Uzbekistan, as far south as Israel and Spain, as far west as England and as far north as Russia and northern Germany and the Czech Republic. Scientists estimated that even at the height of their occupation of western Europe there were never more than 15,000 of them. This conclusion was reached from DNA studies that show very little genetic diversity, a sign of a small population.

The remains of about 400 Neanderthal individuals, including 30 relatively complete skeletons, have been found. Many specimens have been found in Germany, Italy, Spain and France. Famous discovery site include the Neander Valley, near Dusseldorf, Germany, where the first Neanderthal was discovered in 1856; La Ferrassie, France, where a complete skull was found in 1909 (Housed in Musée de l'Homme, Paris).

Well-preserved Neanderthals have been found in El Sidron in Spain, Mezmaiskaya in Russia and Feldhofer in the Neander Valley of Germany.The remains of 75 Neanderthals were found in Vindija cave in the Croatian village of Krapina, 30 miles north of Zagreb. The remains include 874 bones fragments. All these specimens have given scientists a lot of material to work from, which is why we know a lot more about Neanderthals than we do about other species of early man.

The oldest Neanderthal remains, believed to between 230,000 and 300,000 years old, come from the bottom of a 160 foot shaft in Sierra de Atapurca in northern Spain. The remains can not be precisely dated so scientists have based their age estimate because their faces have "pre-Neanderthal" features. There is some debate as to whether they are Neanderthals or archaic homo sapiens or Homo heidelbergensis . See Homo heidelbergensis.

Modern Humans 400,000-20,000 Years Ago (35 articles); First Villages, Early Agriculture and Bronze, Copper and Late Stone Age Humans (33 articles)

Websites and Resources on Neanderthals: Wikipedia: Neanderthals Wikipedia ; Neanderthals Study Guide ; Neandertals on Trial, from PBS; The Neanderthal Museum ; The Neanderthal Flute, by Bob Fink Websites and Resources on Prehistoric Art: Chauvet Cave Paintings ; Cave of Lascaux; Trust for African Rock Art (TARA); Bradshaw Foundation; Australian and Asian Palaeoanthropology, by Peter Brown

Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program ; Institute of Human Origins ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site ; Talk Origins Index ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Human Evolution Images; Hominin Species ; Paleoanthropology Links ; Britannica Human Evolution ; Human Evolution ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations ; Humin Origins Washington State University ; University of California Museum of Anthropology; BBC The evolution of man"; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) ; PBS Evolution: Humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog ; New Scientist: Human Evolution; Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization); The Leakey Foundation; The Stone Age Institute; The Bradshaw Foundation ; Turkana Basin Institute; Koobi Fora Research Project; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa ; Blombus Cave Project; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution; American Journal of Physical Anthropology; Evolutionary Anthropology; Comptes Rendus Palevol ; PaleoAnthropology

Neanderthals Discovered in the Neander Valley, Germany

Neander Valley in Germany

The Neanderthal bones found in 1856 in the Neander Valley in Germany (“thal” is German for valley), 12 kilometers south of Dusseldorf, were the first remains ever found of a prehistoric human ancestor. The remains, found in a limestone mine, consisted of a beetle-browed, low-sloping skullcap, part of a pelvis, and thick-limbed bones. The German workers who found them in a cave thought they belonged to an extinct bear. The first Neanderthal fossil was found in Belgium in 1830 but was not identified as belonging to a Neanderthal until almost a century later.

In 1856, Darwin's Origin of Species had yet to be published and much of the Western world believed that mankind was created by God five days after the heavens and the earth in 4004 B.C.(a date calculated by an Irish theologian). After examining the Neander Valley bones an Irish geologist suggested they may have come from a human ancestor. Most people scoffed at that suggestion. They believed the bones either belonged to a Cossack deserter from the Napoleonic wars, a refugee from Noah's Ark, a village idiot, or a modern human deformed by rickets, arthritis and a blow to the head. When two more Neanderthal skeletons were discovered in Belgian cave in 1886 scientists said that it was unlikely that these men were deformed by the same set of circumstances as the man found in the Neander Valley in 1856. [Source: Michael Lemonick, Time, March 14, 1994]

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker: “The first Neanderthal was found in a limestone cave about forty-five miles north of Bonn, in an area known as the Neander Valley, or, in German, das Neandertal. Although the cave is gone—the limestone was long ago quarried into building blocks—the area is now a sort of Neanderthal theme park, with its own museum, hiking trails, and a garden planted with the kinds of shrubs that would have been encountered during an ice age. In the museum, Neanderthals are portrayed as kindly, if not particularly telegenic, humans. By the entrance to the building, there’s a model of an elderly Neanderthal leaning on a stick. He is smiling benignantly and resembles an unkempt Yogi Berra. Next to him is one of the museum’s most popular attractions—a booth called the Morphing-Station. For three euros, visitors to the station can get a normal profile shot of themselves and, facing that, a second shot that has been doctored. In the second, the chin recedes, the forehead slopes, and the back of the head bulges out. Kids love to see themselves—or, better yet, their siblings—morphed into Neanderthals. They find it screamingly funny. [Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, August 15, 2011]

“When the first Neanderthal bones showed up in the Neander Valley, they were treated as rubbish (and almost certainly damaged in the process). The fragments—a skullcap, four arm bones, two thighbones, and part of a pelvis—were later salvaged by a local businessman, who, thinking they belonged to a cave bear, passed them on to a fossil collector. The fossil collector realized that he was dealing with something much stranger than a bear. He declared the remains to be traces of a “primitive member of our race.”

“As it happened, this was right around the time that Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” and the fragments soon got caught up in the debate over the origin of humans. Opponents of evolution insisted that they belonged to an ordinary person. One theory held that it was a Cossack who had wandered into the region in the tumult following the Napoleonic Wars. The reason the bones looked odd—Neanderthal femurs are distinctly bowed—was that the Cossack had spent too long on his horse. Another attributed the remains to a man with rickets: the man had been in so much pain from his disease that he’d kept his forehead perpetually tensed—hence the protruding brow ridge. (What a man with rickets and in constant pain was doing climbing into a cave was never really explained.)”

Discovery of Early Neanderthal Skeletons

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker: “Over the next decades, bones resembling those from the Neander Valley—thicker than those of modern humans, with strangely shaped skulls—were discovered at several more sites, including two in Belgium and one in France. Meanwhile, a skull that had been unearthed years earlier in Gibraltar was shown to look much like the one from Germany. Clearly, all these remains could not be explained by stories of disoriented Cossacks or rachitic spelunkers. But evolutionists, too, were perplexed by them. Neanderthals had very large skulls—larger, on average, than people today. This made it hard to fit them into an account of evolution that started with small-brained apes and led, through progressively bigger brains, up to humans. In “The Descent of Man,” which appeared in 1871, Darwin mentioned Neanderthals only in passing. “It must be admitted that some skulls of very high antiquity, such as the famous one of Neanderthal, are well developed and capacious,” he noted. [Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, August 15, 2011]

Neanderthal sites

“In 1908, a nearly complete Neanderthal skeleton was discovered in a cave near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in southern France. The skeleton was sent to a paleontologist named Marcellin Boule, at Paris’s National Museum of Natural History. In a series of monographs, Boule invented what might be called the cartoon version of the Neanderthals—bent-kneed, hunched over, and brutish. Neanderthal bones, Boule wrote, displayed a “distinctly simian arrangement,” while the shape of their skulls indicated “the predominance of functions of a purely vegetative or bestial kind.” Boule’s conclusions were studied and then echoed by many of his contemporaries; the British anthropologist Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, for instance, described Neanderthals as walking with “a half-stooping slouch” upon “legs of a peculiarly ungraceful form.” (Smith also claimed that Neanderthals’ “unattractiveness” was “further emphasized by a shaggy covering of hair over most of the body,” although there was—and still is—no clear evidence that they were hairy.)

“In the nineteen-fifties, a pair of anatomists, Williams Straus and Alexander Cave, decided to reëxamine the skeleton from La Chapelle. What Boule had taken for the Neanderthal’s natural posture, Straus and Cave determined, was probably a function of arthritis. Neanderthals did not walk with a slouch, or with bent knees. Indeed, given a shave and a new suit, the pair wrote, a Neanderthal probably would attract no more attention on a New York City subway “than some of its other denizens.” More recent scholarship has tended to support the idea that Neanderthals, if not quite up to negotiating the I.R.T., certainly walked upright, with a gait we would recognize more or less as our own. The version of Neanderthals offered by the Neanderthal Museum—another cartoon—is imbued with cheerful dignity. Neanderthals are presented as living in tepees, wearing what look like leather yoga pants, and gazing contemplatively over the frozen landscape. “Neanderthal man was not some prehistoric Rambo,” one of the display tags admonishes. “He was an intelligent individual.”

Gorham's Cave Complex in Gibralter

Discovered in 1907, Gorham’s Cave is a natural sea cave located on the southeastern face of the Rock of Gibraltar. It is the last known place of Neanderthal occupation in the world. Of the total 18 meters of archaeological deposits in the cave, the top 2 meters include Phoenician-Carthaginian (800-300 B.C.) and Neolithic occupations. The remaining 16 meters include Solutrean and Magdalenian deposits and a level of Mousterian stone tools, representing a Neanderthal occupation between 38,000-30,000 years ago. Beneath is a layer of a much earlier occupation dating to 47,000 years ago. [Source:, Sep 24, 2014]

Gorham's Cave

According to UNESCO: “Located on the eastern side of the Rock of Gibraltar, steep limestone cliffs contain four caves with extensive archaeological and palaeontological deposits that provide evidence of Neanderthal occupation over a span of 100,000 years. These caves have provided extensive evidence of Neanderthal life, including rare evidence of exploitation of birds and marine animals for food; and use of bird feathers and abstract rock engravings, both indicating new evidence of the cognitive abilities of the Neanderthals. The sites are complemented by their steep limestone cliff settings, and the present-day flora and fauna of Gibraltar, much of which can be also identified in the rich palaeo-environmental evidence from the excavations. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage sites website =]

“While long-term scientific research is continuing, these sites have contributed substantially to the debates about the Neanderthal and human evolution. The attributes that express this value are the striking cluster of caves containing intact archaeological deposits that provide evidence of Neanderthal and early modern human occupation of Gibraltar and the landscape setting which assists in presenting the natural resources and environmental context of Neanderthal life.” =

Gorham's Cave Complex provides an exceptional testimony to the occupation, cultural traditions and material culture of Neanderthal and early modern human populations through a period spanning approximately 120,000 years. This is expressed by the rich archaeological evidence in the caves, the rare rock engravings at Gorham’s Caves (dated to more than 39,000 years ago), rare evidence of Neanderthal exploitation of birds and marine animals for food, and the ability of the deposits to depict the climatic and environmental conditions of the peninsula over this vast span of time. The archaeological and scientific potential of the caves continues to be explored through archaeological research and scientific debates, providing continuing opportunities for understanding Neanderthal life, including their capacity for abstract thinking.” =

Neanderthal Life in Gorham’s Cave

Gorham's Cave View

Jon Mooallemjan wrote in the New York Times magazine: “Gorham’s Cave is on Gibraltar’s rough-hewed eastern coast: a tremendous opening at the bottom of the sheer face of the Rock, shadowy and hallowed-seeming, like a cathedral. Its mouth is 200 feet across at the base and 120 feet tall. It tapers asymmetrically like a crumpled wizard’s hat. |[Source: Jon Mooallemjan, New York Times magazine, January 11, 2017 ||*||]

“Neanderthals inhabited Gorham’s Cave on and off for 100,000 years, as well as a second cave next to it, called Vanguard Cave. The artifacts they left behind were buried as wind pushed sand into the cave. This created a high sloping dune, composed of hundreds of distinct layers of sand, each of which was once the surface of the dune, the floor of the cave. The dune is enormous. It reaches about two-thirds of the way up Gorham’s walls, spilling out of the cave’s mouth and onto the rocky beach, like a colossal cat’s tongue lapping at the Mediterranean. ||*||

“The Neanderthals did their butchering and cooking at the front of Gorham’s, then retired here at night. Lighting a fire at this hearth would block the narrowest point in the cave, sealing off this chamber from predators. You could hang out here, Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, said, “have a late-night snack or something,” then head to bed. “See there?” he said, motioning to a smaller opening to our right. It led to a second room, similar to this one. “This,” Finlayson said, “is the bedroom.”“ ||*||

Inside Gorham’s Cave

Jonathan Vigliotti of CBS News wrote: On the southern tip of Gibraltar's famous rock, a place called Gorham's Cave is where Neanderthals are believed to have lived out their final days on earth before mysteriously vanishing. "I often think that they were so like us they probably sat in the same places and looked out at the same view and really, all that's separating us is time," said archaeologist Geraldine Finlayson. Finlayson and her team have been excavating the site since 1989 after Neanderthal skulls of a child and an adult were found there. "It gives up a little bit of its secrets every time," Finlayson said. [Source: Jonathan Vigliotti, CBS News July 6, 2017]

skull from Gibralter

Back when Neanderthals lived there, the rock was surrounded by a beach. Over tens of thousands of years, wind blowing sand into the caves, and rising sea levels, trapped the artifacts inside—until now. The findings have revealed a life remarkably similar to ours in certain ways. "Those black flakes are little bits of charcoal — you know when you have a barbecue and it spits," Finlayson said.

In 2014, her team's discovery — now sealed off to protect it — proved Neanderthals were capable of abstract thinking. This was once thought impossible. It's called "The Hashtag," a series of lines deliberately carved into stone. "Deliberately, as in a conscious decision to make an impression on the rock. Whether they were trying to communicate a message as art or a message as, I don't know, a rudimentary map, we will never really know, not scientifically. So I always stop short of saying it's art. We're looking at the beginning of expression of the human race," Finlayson explained.

"We've cataloged over 200 caves in Gibraltar," Finlayson said. "Now, 10 of those have direct evidence to Neanderthal presence. You could say this is a bit like Neanderthal City." A lost city, slowly unearthed. It's almost like a time capsule. "Well, yes, I've never thought of it that way, but absolutely. This is exactly what it is. You're walking on exactly the same place that the Neanderthals were walking and you're finding the little bits of evidence that have left — that have survived the ages," Finlayson said.”

El Sidrón Cave in Spain

El Sidrón Cave is a limestone karst cave system located in the Piloña municipality of Asturias, northwestern Spain, where Paleolithic rock art and the fossils of more than a dozen Neanderthals have been found. In the Tunnel of Bones cave 12 Neanderthal specimens dating around 49,000 years ago have been recovered.

In 1994, one hundred forty 43,000-year-old Neanderthal bones were found in El Sidorn cave, in an area of upland forests in the Spanish province of Asturias, just south of the Bay of Biscay after some spelunkers noticed two human mandibles jutting out of the soil in a gallery of the cave. After entering the cave by lowering oneself on a rope it takes about 10 minutes to reach “Gallery of Bones." As of 2008. 1,500 bone fragments had been recovered from at least nine Neanderthals — including five young adults, two adolescents and a three-year-old child. Shortly after the nine died the ground below them collapsed, depositing their remain in limestone hollow where a flood covered them with sediment, allowing some of their DNA to be preserved.

According to the University of Adelaide: “The El Sidrón cave, situated in Piloña, in Asturias in northern Spain, has provided the finest Neanderthal collection in the Iberian Peninsula and is one of the most active archaeological dig sites in the world. Discovered in 1994, around 2,500 skeletal remains from at least 13 individuals of both sexes and of varying ages who lived there around 49,000 years ago have been recovered. */ [Source: University of Adelaide and the Spanish National Research Council, March 9, 2017 */]

Sima de los Huesos (“Pit of Bones”) in Spain


The Sima de los Huesos (“Pit of Bones”) site is northern Spain about 100 feet (30 meters) below the surface at the bottom of a 42-foot (13-meter) vertical shaft. This “Pit of Bones” has yielded fossils of at least 28 individuals, the world's largest collection of human fossils dating from the Middle Pleistocene, about 125,000 to 780,000 years ago, along with remains of cave bears and other animals. The oldest fossils of modern humans found yet date back to about 200,000 years ago. Archaeologists suggest the bones may have been washed down it by rain or floods, or that the bones were even intentionally buried there.

Henry McHenry wrote in Encyclopædia Britannica: “More than 1,600 human fossils, including several nearly complete skulls, have been found. The age of this material is at least 300,000 years and may be as old as 600,000 years. Brain sizes are within the range of both Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) and modern humans. The skeletons possess several traits unique to Neanderthals, including a projecting midface, long and narrow pubic bones, and thick finger bones. Unlike later Neanderthals, however, they do not fully express the characteristic Neanderthal form. The site also harboured a 430,000-year-old fractured skull, which is the earliest evidence of interpersonal violence in Homo. [Source: Henry McHenry, Encyclopædia Britannica]

Fossils from The Sima de los Huesos Spain, dated to be 400,000 years old, provide earliest genetic evidence of Neanderthals. It is possible or likely that the fossils are from a pre-Neanderthal hominin. Ewen Callaway wrote in Nature: “The remains are known as the Sima hominins because they were found in Sima de los Huesos (Spanish for ‘pit of bones’), a 13-metre-deep shaft in Spain’s Atapuerca mountains. Few ancient sites are as important or intriguing as Sima, which holds the remains of at least 28 individuals, along with those of dozens of cave bears and other animals. The hominins might have plummeted to their death, but some researchers think they were deliberately buried there. [Source: Ewen Callaway, Nature, March 14, 2016]

“The Sima hominin skulls have the beginnings of a prominent brow ridge, as well as other traits typical of Neanderthals. But other features, and uncertainties around their age — some studies put them at 600,000 years old, others closer to 400,000 — convinced many researchers that they might instead belong to an older species known as Homo heidelbergensis. Confusion peaked when Meyer, his colleague Svante Pääbo and their team revealed the mitochondrial connection to the Denisovans. But they hoped that retrieving the skeletons’ nuclear DNA — which represents many more lines of ancestry than does mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited solely from the maternal line — would clear things up.”

Bridget Alex wrote in The Guardian: “ The Sima hominins looked like early members of the Neanderthal lineage based on morphological similarities. This hypothesis fit the timing of the split between Neanderthals and modern humans based on pedigree analysis (765,000-550,000 years ago), but did not work with the phylogenetic estimate (383,000-275,000 years ago). [Source: Bridget Alex, The Guardian, December 22, 2016|=|]

“Where do the Sima hominins belong on our family tree? Were they ancestors of both Neanderthals and modern humans, just Neanderthals, or neither? DNA answered this definitively. The Sima hominins belong to the Neanderthal branch after it split with modern humans. Moreover, the result provides a firm time point in our family tree, suggesting that the pedigree rate works for this period of human evolution.” |=|

Atapuerca in Spain


Sima de los Huesos is part of Atapuerca, an anthropological and archaeological in Spain designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. According to UNESCO: “The caves of the Sierra de Atapuerca contain a rich fossil record of the earliest human beings in Europe, from nearly one million years ago and extending up to the Common Era. They represent an exceptional reserve of data, the scientific study of which provides priceless information about the appearance and the way of life of these remote human ancestors. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage site website =

The Archaeological Site of Atapuerca is located near the city of Burgos, in the Autonomous Community of Castilla y León, in the North of the Iberian Peninsula. The property encompasses 284.119 ha and contains a rich fossil record of the earliest human beings in Europe, from nearly one million years ago and extending into the Common Era. It constitutes an exceptional scientific reserve that provides priceless information about the appearance and way of life of these remote human ancestors. =

“The Sierra de Atapuerca sites provide unique testimony of the origin and evolution both of the existing human civilization and of other cultures that have disappeared. The evolutionary line or lines from the African ancestors of modern humankind are documented in these sites. The earliest and most abundant evidence of humankind in Europe is found in the Sierra de Atapuerca. The sites constitute an exceptional example of continuous human occupation, due to their special ecosystems and their geographical location. The fossil remains in the Sierra de Atapuerca are an invaluable reserve of information about the physical nature and the way of life of the earliest human communities in Europe. In addition, painted and engraved panels have been recorded, with geometrical motifs, hunting scenes, and anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures.

Henry McHenry wrote in Encyclopædia Britannica: Atapuerca is a “site of several limestone caves near Burgos in northern Spain, known for the abundant human (genus Homo) remains discovered there beginning in 1976. The site called Sima del Elefante (“Pit of the Elephant”) contains the earliest evidence of humans in western Europe—fragments of a jawbone and teeth date to 1.1–1.2 million years ago. The nearby site of Gran Dolina contains human remains dating to about 800,000 years ago and some of the earliest tools found in western Europe. Paleoanthropologists who first described the fossils attributed them to a new species, H. antecessor, which they proposed as the ancestor of modern humans (H. sapiens) owing to certain distinctly modern facial features. Other researchers, however, hesitate to accept this assertion and group the fossils with similar remains classified as H. heidelbergensis.” [Source: Henry McHenry, Encyclopædia Britannica]

La Ferrassie in France

La Ferrassie

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker: “One of the largest assemblages of Neanderthal bones ever found—remains from seven individuals—was discovered about a century ago at a spot known as La Ferrassie, in southwestern France. La Ferrassie is in the Dordogne, not far from La Chapelle and within half an hour’s drive of dozens of other important archeological sites, including the painted caves at Lascaux.[Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, August 15, 2011]

“Many thousands of years ago, La Ferrassie was a huge limestone cave, but one of the walls has since fallen in, and now it is open on two sides. A massive ledge of rock juts out about twenty feet off the ground, like half of a vaulted ceiling. The site is ringed by a wire fence and hung with tarps, which give it the aspect of a crime scene.

“The day was hot and dusty. Half a dozen students crouched in a long trench, picking at the dirt with trowels. Along the side of the trench, I could see bits of bone sticking out from the reddish soil. The bones toward the bottom, I was told, had been tossed there by Neanderthals. The bones near the top were the leavings of modern humans, who occupied La Ferrassie once the Neanderthals were gone. The Neanderthal skeletons from the site had long since been removed, but there was still hope that some stray bit, like a tooth, might be found. Each bone fragment that was unearthed, along with every flake of flint and anything else that might even remotely be of interest, was set aside to be taken back to the headquarters to be sorted and tagged.

“I tried to imagine what life had been like for the Neanderthals at La Ferrassie. Though the area is now wooded, then it would have been tundra. There would have been elk roaming the valley, and reindeer and wild cattle and mammoths....Later on, back at the barn, I picked through the bits and pieces that had been dug up over the past few days. There were hundreds of fragments of animal bone, each of which had been cleaned and numbered and placed in its own little plastic bag, and hundreds of flakes of flint. Most of the flakes were probably the detritus of toolmaking—the Stone Age equivalent of wood shavings—but some, I learned, were the tools themselves. Once I was shown what to look for, I could see the bevelled edges that the Neanderthals had crafted. One tool in particular stood out: a palm-size flint shaped like a teardrop. In archeological terms, it was a hand axe, though it probably was not used as an axe in the contemporary sense of the word. It had been found near the bottom of the trench, so it was estimated to be about seventy thousand years old. I took it out of its plastic bag and turned it over. It was almost perfectly symmetrical and—to a human eye, at least—quite beautiful. I said that I thought the Neanderthal who had fashioned it must have had a keen sense of design.

La Ferrassie vulva

“Among the hundreds of thousands of Neanderthal artifacts that have been unearthed, almost none represent unambiguous attempts at art or adornment, and those which have been interpreted this way—for instance, ivory pendants discovered in a cave in central France—are the subject of endless, often abstruse disputes. (Many archeologists believe that the pendants were created by Neanderthals who had come into contact with modern humans and were trying to imitate them, but, relying on the most recent dating techniques, some argue that the pendants were, in fact, created by modern humans.) This paucity has led some to propose that Neanderthals were not capable of art or—what amounts to much the same thing—not interested in it. They simply did not possess what, genomically speaking, might be called the aesthetic mutation.

La Cotte de St Brelade in the U.K.

La Cotte de St Brelade on the British island of Jersey is one of the most spectacular Neanderthal sites in Europe.Archaeologists have investigated the site at La Cotte de St Brelade since the mid-19th century. More artefacts have been unearthed here than at all the other Neanderthal sites in the British Isles put together. The site is famous for its piles of wooly rhini and mammoth bones. [Source: Ian Sample, The Guardian, February 28, 2014 \^^/]

Ian Sample wrote in The Guardian: “Hundreds of thousands of stone tools and bone fragments have been uncovered at the Jersey site where Neanderthals lived on and off for around 200,000 years. The site was apparently abandoned from time to time when the climate cooled, forcing the Neanderthals back to warmer territory.” The seabed that stretches away from the cliff is one place Neanderthals lived. “The land, now submerged under higher sea levels, was cut with granite ravines, gullies and dead-end valleys – a terrain perfect for stalking and ambushing prey.

Beccy Scott, an archaeologist at the British Museum, told The Guardian: "The site would have been an ideal vantage point for Neanderthal hunters. They could have looked out over the open plain and watched mammoths, woolly rhinos and horses moving around. They could see what was going on, and move out and ambush their prey," said Scott. The exposed coastal site, one of the last resting places of the Neanderthals, was battered by fierce storms in February 2014, raising fears that ancient remains at the site had been destroyed.” \^^/

Vindija Cave in Croatia

Vindija Cave, Croatia

Vindija Cave is an archaeological site where numerous Neanderthal and modern human remains have been found. located in the municipality of Donja Voća near n the Croatian village of Krapina, 50 kilometers north of Zagreb in northern Croatia. The remains of 75 Neanderthals were found in Vindija cave. The remains include 874 bones fragments. All these specimens have given scientists a lot of material to work from, which is why we know a lot more about Neanderthals than we do about other species of early man. Three of these Neanderthals were selected as the primary sources for the first draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome project.

It is estimated that Neanderthals used the cave 40,000 years ago; approximately, 8000 years before modern humans lived in that part of Europe. The hominid specimens at level 3G are regarded as unquestionably Neanderthal in overall morphology but exhibit a number of traits that sit closer to anatomically modern Europeans than to the traditional Neanderthal. These include a thinner and less projecting brow ridge, reduced facial size, and narrower front teeth.[4] Though some have put these differences down to the small size of the Vindija individuals, a study conducted in 1995 established that the Vindija Neanderthals, though small, were of comparable size to more morphologically classic Neanderthals such as La Ferassie 2, Shanidar 1 and 4, and Tabun 1. More likely, the Vindija Neanderthals were in transition from the classic robust form to a more gracile one. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Neanderthal remains at Vindija were found in a Mousterian context; some of the remains occurred in a level with some mixed Aurignacian artefacts.[1] Several of the Neanderthal samples from Vindija also yielded surprisingly late dates when directed dated, yielding dates as late as 28,000–29,000 BP. This led to suggestions that Neanderthals might have survived longer than previously thought and that the Neanderthals at Vindija might have lived concurrently with modern humans. However, later dating methods using more advanced techniques revealed that these earlier dating results were erroneous. The erroneous dates were due to contamination by modern carbon, as minute amounts of modern contamination may result in large errors for very old samples. +

In 2017, researchers from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit applied a new technique using AMS ultrafiltration based on the extraction of hydroxyproline to directly date several samples from Vindija Cave. Their direct AMS dating results show that the Neanderthal finds at Vindija are older than 44,000 BP. Since this is earlier than the arrival of the first modern humans to the region, the Vindija Neanderthals most likely did not intermix with modern humans.

Neanderthal Remains from Vindija Cave Finds Them Older than Thought

Krapina skull

In 2017, researchers from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit applied a new technique using AMS ultrafiltration based on the extraction of hydroxyproline to directly date several samples from Vindija Cave. Their direct AMS dating results show that the Neanderthal finds at Vindija are older than 44,000 BP. Since this is earlier than the arrival of the first modern humans to the region, the Vindija Neanderthals most likely did not intermix with modern humans.

New dating of Neanderthal remains from Vindija Cave finds them older than thought. Bob Yirka wrote in “An international team of researchers has conducted a new test of Neanderthal remains found at Vindija Cave in Croatia and found them to be older than previous studies indicated. In their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes their dating technique and the possible implications of their findings. [Source: Bob Yirka,, September 5, 2017 |||]

“The Neanderthal remains were originally found in the cave approximately 40 years ago and have been tested for age several times. They have also been the subject of much speculation, as it was thought that the remains represented the last of the Neanderthals in that part of Europe and that they existed for a short period of time in close proximity to modern humans. Initial testing suggested the remains were approximately 28,000 to 29,000 years old. More recent tests have put them at 32,000 to 34,000 years old. Both time frames coincide with the arrival of modern humans into the area, keeping alive the theory that the two groups mixed, both physically and socially. But now, using what is being described as a more accurate technique, the group with this new effort has found that the remains are older than thought. |||

“The new technique, called ZooMS involves radiocarbon dating hydroxyproline—an amino acid taken from collagen samples found in bone remains. The team also purified the collagen to remove contaminants. The researchers report that the new technique indicates that the remains—all four samples—were approximately 40,000 years old. This new finding puts the Neanderthal in the cave well before the arrival of modern humans, thus, there could not have been mixing of the two. |||

“The researchers also studied other artifacts from the cave, including other animal bones, and found that the artifacts were a mixed bag, representing a timeline of thousands of years. The animal bones, they found, were from bears. This has led the team to conclude that the reason more modern artifacts were found with older artifacts is because of bears mixing them up. The researchers conclude by claiming their study has shown that the Neanderthals at the Vindija cave did not overlap in time with modern humans, and thus were not the final holdout that many have suggested.” |||

Shanidar Cave in Iraq

Shanidar Cave

Shanidar Cave is an archeological site on the Upper Zab River in the Zargos Mountains or northern Iraq, near the Turkish border and not far from the Iraqi Kurdistan capital, Erbil. The remains of 10 Neanderthal, who lived between 35,000 and 65,000 years ago, have been found there. The Shanidar Neanderthal remains were first discovered in the mid-1950’s by a team from Columbia University. The first nine skeletons were excavated between 1957 and 1961. The tenth skeleton was discovered in 2006 when an archeologist discovered several bones from the collection that did not match the others. Shanidar Cave is noteworthy because it was the first site that shed light on the burial practices and causes of death among Neanderthals. [Source: Kurdish Project]

Four of the six adult Neanderthals found in a cave near Shanidar, Iraq, were deformed by disease and injuries. The skeleton of one badly diseased Neanderthal with no teeth and severe arthritis seems to show that Neanderthals took care of their elders. Another suffered severe injuries but lived to the relatively old age of 45, which shows he was cared for as a member of a group, an early sign of social behavior.

Shanidar Cave is sometimes held up as an example that Neanderthal were more spiritually and intellectually advanced the popular image of them suggests. It contains was essentially a small Neanderthal cemetery. One grave contained the body of a 42-year-old man, purportedly sprinkled with flowers. Jon Mooallemjan wrote in the New York Times magazine: “There had been many compelling instances of Neanderthals’ burying their dead, but Shanidar was harder to ignore, especially after soil samples revealed the presence of huge amounts of pollen. This was interpreted as the remains of a funerary floral arrangement. An archaeologist at the center of this work, Ralph Solecki, published a book called “Shanidar: The First Flower People.” It was 1971 the Age of Aquarius. Those flowers, he’d go on to write, proved that Neanderthals “had ‘soul.’ “Then again, Solecki’s idea was eventually discredited. In 1999, a more thorough analysis of the Shanidar grave site found that Neanderthals almost certainly did not leave flowers there. The pollen had been tracked in, thousands of years later, by burrowing, gerbil-like rodents. (That said, even a half-century later, there are still paleoanthropologists at work on this question. It might not have been gerbils; it may have been bees.) [Source: Jon Mooallemjan, New York Times magazine, January 11, 2017]

Shanidar skull

The skeleton of Neanderthal male found at Shanidar had a broken rib that indicated he had been struck in rib and died of a collapsed lung one to three weeks later. Some researchers argued that this was evidence of a man being stabbed to death or being badly beaten up by another Neanderthal, but others say the wounds could just as easily been caused by an accident. That is until Duke anthropologist Steven Churchill published a study in July 2009 that used modern forensic science and determined that the victim, known to scientists as Shanidar 3 after the Iraq site, was most likely killed by a thrown spear. What is perhaps even more remarkable about the finding is that at that time only humans had throwing spears, a technology that makes sense in open grassland of Africa, while Neanderthals used only thrusting spears.

In an experiment Churchill's team aimed to re-create the conditions of Shanidar 3's death using a crossbow, Stone Age projectiles and a pig carcass (pig skin and bones are thought to have the same toughness as Neanderthal skin and bones). When the projectiles were fired at a velocity consistent with that of a thrown spear the punctures left on the pig's ribs resembled those found on the Shanidar 3's ribs. By contrast when the ribs were stabbed with a thrusting spear Churchill found the ribs “were busted al to hell. The high kinetic energy cased a lot of damage on the area." In addition, the angle of entry of Shanidar 3's wound is “consistent with the ballistic trajectory of a thrown weapon."

Neanderthals in Central Asia

The easternmost remains of a Neanderthal — the Teshik-Tash child — were found in Man-Kuan cave near Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Dated to between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago, the fossils are the oldest known hominid remains in Central Asia. Belonging to a Neanderthal child, estimated to be nine or ten years old, they were discovered in 1938 by A.P. Okladnikov in Teshik-Tash – a cave situated in the branches of the Hissar Range south of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, about 1500 meters above sea level. [Source: Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Erhnography ^=^]

Teshik-Task from Uzbekistan

Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) tools and numerous bones of wild goats and other animals were found in the cave deposits. It appears that people living in the grotto mostly hunted mountain goats. Horns of goats, arranged pairwise, were found around the skeleton. They might have been placed intentionally (some, judging by their position, had been stuck into the ground). If so, rather than merely abandoning the bodies of their dead, the Neanderthals buried them according to a rite reflecting some ideas of the other world. ^=^

There was initially some debate as to whether the fossils belonged to a “classical” Neanderthal” or “an evolutionary line leading to anatomically modern humans. The structure of DNA extracted from the bones of the Teshik-Tash child links him with Neanderthals rather than with Homo sapiens. The famed Russian scientist M.M. Gerasimov has reconstructed the complete appearance of the Teshik-Tash child. The skull, in his words, “is much larger and heavier than that of a modern child of the same age. The browridge is much more robust than in a modern adult. The forehead is retreating . The head is large and heavy, especially in the facial part, the stature is low, and the trunk is long. While being 9-10, he looks older. The disproportion between the head and the rest of the body combines with very powerful shoulders and a peculiarly stooped trunk. The arms are very strong. The legs are short and muscular. This trait combination is typical of Neanderthals.” ^=^

Denisova Cave in Siberia

Jamie Shreeve wrote in National Geographic: “In the Altay Mountains of southern Siberia, some 200 miles from where Russia touches Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan, nestled under a rock face about 30 yards above a little river called the Anuy, there is a cave called Denisova. It has long attracted visitors. The name comes from that of a hermit, Denis, who is said to have lived there in the 18th century. Long before that, Neolithic and later Turkic pastoralists took shelter in the cave, gathering their herds around them to ride out the Siberian winters. [Source: Jamie Shreeve, National Geographic, July 2013 +]

“In the back of the cave is a small side chamber, and it was there that a young Russian archaeologist named Alexander Tsybankov was digging one day in July 2008, in deposits believed to be 30,000 to 50,000 years old, when he came upon a tiny piece of bone. It was hardly promising: a rough nubbin about the size and shape of a pebble you might shake out of your shoe...The bone preserved just enough anatomy for the paleontologist to identify it as a chip from a primate fingertip—specifically the part that faces the last joint in the pinkie. Since there is no evidence for primates other than humans in Siberia 30,000 to 50,000 years ago—no apes or monkeys—the fossil was presumably from some kind of human. Judging by the incompletely fused joint surface, the human in question had died young, perhaps as young as eight years old. +\

Denisova Cave

“Anatoly Derevianko, leader of the Altay excavations and director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, thought the bone might belong to a member of our own species, Homo sapiens. Sophisticated artifacts that could only be the work of modern humans, including a beautiful bracelet of polished green stone, had previously been found in the same deposits. But DNA from a fossil found earlier in a nearby cave had proved to be Neanderthal, so it was possible this bone was Neanderthal as well.” +\

“Derevianko decided to cut the bone in two. He sent one half to a genetics laboratory in California; so far he has not heard from that half again. He slipped the other half into an envelope and had it hand-delivered to Svante Pääbo, an evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

In the summer of 2010 a human toe bone was found along with an enormous tooth, later linked with the fingertip, from “Layer 11,” in the cave, dated to 30,000 to 50,000 years ago. In Leipzig a graduate student named Susanna Sawyer analyzed its DNA. “To everyone’s shock, the toe bone had turned out to be Neanderthal, deepening the mystery of the place. The green stone bracelet found earlier in Layer 11 had almost surely been made by modern humans. The toe bone was Neanderthal. And the finger bone was something else entirely. One cave, three kinds of human being. “Denisova is magical,” said Svante Pääbo. “It’s the one spot on Earth that we know of where Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans all lived.”

Neanderthal Woman in the Denisovan Cave

Charles Q. Choi wrote in Live Science: “The scientists focused mostly on the fossil's nuclear DNA, the genetic material from the chromosomes in the nucleus of the cell that a person receives from both their mother and father. They also examined the genome of this fossil's mitochondria — the powerhouses of the cell, which possess their own DNA and get passed down solely from the mother.[Source: Charles Q. Choi, Live Science, December 18, 2013 /*]

“The investigators completely sequenced the fossil's nuclear DNA, with each position (or nucleotide) sequenced an average of 50 times. This makes the sequence's quality at least as high as that of genomes sequenced from present-day people. The genetic analysis revealed the toe bone belonged to a Neanderthal. When compared with other Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA samples, this newfound fossil's closest known relatives are Neanderthals found in Mezmaiskaya Cave in the Caucasus Mountains about 2,100 miles (3,380 kilometers) away. /*\

“These findings helped the scientists refine the human family tree, further confirming that different human lineages interbred. They estimated about 1.5 to 2.1 percent of DNA of people outside Africa are Neanderthal in origin, while about 0.2 percent of DNA of mainland Asians and Native Americans is Denisovan in origin. "Admixture seems to be common among human groups," said study lead author Kay Prüfer, a computational geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Prüfer and his colleagues detailed their findings in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal Nature.” /*\

Neanderthals In the Arctic?

Evidence of Neanderthal has been found near the Arctic Circle in the Ural mountains of Russia. Dan McLerran wrote in Popular Archaeology: “While excavating at Byzovaya, Russia, an archaeological site in the cold western foothills of the Ural Mountains at the edge of the Arctic Circle, Dr. Ludovic Slimak of the Université de Toulouse le Mirail, France, along with a team of colleagues, had unearthed a total of 313 human artifacts, along with a massive accumulation of remains of mammoths and other animals, (such as reindeer, wooly rhinoceros, musk ox, horse, wolf, polar fox, and bear). Examination of the mammoth remains indicated that they had been butchered using human-made tools. But these artifacts, a stone tool technology known as Mousterian and associated most commonly with Neanderthals, were dated to about 28,500 BP, too late for the Neanderthals. The dating didn't seem to match the nature of the technology, as the newly discovered artifacts defined a toolkit that belonged primarily to the Middle Paleolithic period (300,000 to 40,000 years ago), and Neanderthals are generally thought to have become extinct after that time period — replaced, as many scientists have suggested, by Homo sapiens (anatomically modern humans) around 75,000 to 50,000 years ago with a more advanced stone tool industry. [Source: Dan McLerran, Popular Archaeology, May 12, 2011 -]

“Says Slimak, "Byzova is considered an Upper Paleolithic (40,000 - 10,000 years BP) site because it [the artifact assemblage] dates to 28,500 years ago and in all of Europe — all of Eurasia, in fact — we only see Upper Paleolithic sites [sites with Upper Paleolithic-type stone tool assemblages always dated to this time period], while working on these Russian lithic assemblages with our Russian colleagues, we realized that we were not finding all of the archaeological indicators we expected to see from this period, and that in place of the classic products from the Upper Paleolithic we were finding other products that were just as classic, but from the Middle Paleolithic, from what we call the 'Mousterian' culture. This culture was thought to have disappeared from all of Eurasia at least 7,000 years earlier. The biological bearer of this culture known in Europe was......Neanderthal." -

“Is all of this perhaps the result of a huge error in the dating process? Not according to Slimak. "There were different laboratories using different methods, all giving very convergent [the same] dates.......we are not dealing with a radiometric measuring error, but with a historic and anthropological reality." To date, no associated human fossil evidence has been recovered from the site. This makes it currently impossible to conclude who made the stone implements. The occupants were either a late, surviving remnant of Neanderthals occupying the fringes of habitable territory during a time when Homo sapiens were dominating and populating most of Europe/Eurasia, or they were a group of Homo sapiens who had adapted or retained the "old style" stone tool technology developed and so successfully used by the Neanderthals that came before them. Either way, it presents an important new development that raises a profusion of new questions about the evolution of human material culture in this part of the world and the range of prehistoric human activity on the Eurasian continent. It may also beg reconsideration of currently held theories about the spread of Homo sapiens in Eurasia and the extinction of Neanderthals.

"Located near the Arctic Circle," Slimak told Popular Archaeology, "it is by far the northernmost [extension] of Mousterian industry ever recorded, crossing the previous known geographic limits known for such cultures by more than a thousand kilometers. All these discoveries are challenging what we previously thought about this culture and have direct and profound implications on our understanding of the extinction of these societies. The colonization of the far north requires a strong social organization and technical abilities, like those of the sub-actual inuit groups. For a group, or a full society, to be able to adapt itself to the hardest environments of the planet is a clear sign of a strong ability to scope every environmental and climatic context. Such demonstration has not been previously indicated in the Mousterian. This discovery definitively challenges some theories that proposed that the Mousterian extinction [and thus perhaps by extension the Neanderthals] was related to, or due to, a technical inferiority or inability to adapt to climatic or environmental constraints. So these results are suggesting that Neanderthals did not disappear due to climatic shifts and that their cultures were able to scope any landscape on the planet, in all of its diversity, including the harshest ones. Regarding "cultural inferiority", it is clear that, by showing such adaptability, the Mousterian cultures can no longer be considered 'archaic'." -

“Moreover, according to the recently released report, Slimak maintains that the discoveries at Byzovaya also challenge the long-held hypothesis that there was a total replacement of Middle Paleolithic culture in Europe by around 37,000 B.P., and that it is possible that the time period for coexistence of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens was longer than previously thought. -

This is not the first time that investigations in this area of the Urals have been conducted. Russian archaeologists had explored it earlier. In 2000, Norwegian-Russian teams began a field campaign at Byzovaya, and Pavel Pavlov of the Russian Academy of Sciences had already accumulated a number of artifacts that featured characteristics more akin to the Mousterian industry, found presumably within Upper Paleolithic contexts. Renewed field missions were initiated in 2006, utilizing the expertise of a french specialist in lithic technology to confirm Pavlov's hunch that they were really looking at a Mousterian technology. What has now emerged from the excavations is no less than astonishing, providing the impetus for further exploration.

Neanderthals in California, 130,000 Years Ago?

In 2017, scientists made the startling claim that the first known Americans arrived more than 115,000 years than they earlier thought — and maybe they were Neanderthals. Associated Press reported: “Researchers say a site in Southern California shows evidence of humanlike behavior from about 130,000 years ago, when bones and teeth of an elephantlike mastodon were evidently smashed with rocks. [Source: Associated Press, April 26, 2017~||~]

“The earlier date means the bone-smashers were not necessarily members of our own species, Homo sapiens. The researchers speculate that these early Californians could have instead been species known only from fossils in Europe, Africa and Asia: Neanderthals, a little-known group called Denisovans, or another human forerunner named Homo erectus. “The very honest answer is, we don’t know,” said Steven Holen, lead author of the paper and director of the nonprofit Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota. No remains of any individuals were found. ~||~

“Whoever they were, they could have arrived by land or sea. They might have come from Asia via the Beringea land bridge that used to connect Siberia to Alaska, or maybe come across by watercraft along the Beringea coast or across open water to North America, before turning southward to California, Holen said in a telephone interview. Holen and others presented their evidence in a paper released by the journal Nature . Not surprisingly, the report was met by skepticism from other experts who don’t think there is enough proof. ~||~

“The research dates back to the winter of 1992-3. The site was unearthed during a routine dig by researchers during a freeway expansion project in San Diego. Analysis of the find was delayed to assemble the right expertise, said Tom Demere, curator of paleontology at the San Diego Natural History Museum, another author of the paper. ~||~

“The Nature analysis focuses on remains from a single mastodon, and five stones found nearby. The mastodon’s bones and teeth were evidently placed on two stones used as anvils and smashed with three stone hammers, to get at nutritious marrow and create raw material for tools. Patterns of damage on the limb bones looked like what happened in experiments when elephant bones were smashed with rocks. And the bones and stones were found in two areas, each roughly centered on what’s thought to be an anvil. The stones measured about 8 inches (20 centimeters) to 12 inches (30 centimeters) long and weighed up to 32 pounds (14.5 kilograms). They weren’t hand-crafted tools, Demere said. The users evidently found them and brought them to the site. The excavation also found a mastodon tusk in a vertical position, extending down into older layers, which may indicate it had been jammed into the ground as a marker or to create a platform, Demere said. The fate of the visitors is not clear. Maybe they died out without leaving any descendants, he said. ~||~

“Experts not connected with the study provided a range of reactions. “If the results stand up to further scrutiny, this does indeed change everything we thought we knew,” said Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. Neanderthals and Denisovans are the most likely identities of the visitors, he said. But “many of us will want to see supporting evidence of this ancient occupation from other sites, before we abandon the conventional model of a first arrival by modern humans within the last 15,000 years,” he wrote in an email. Erella Hovers of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University in Tempe, who wrote a commentary accompanying the work, said in an email that the archaeological interpretation seemed convincing. Some other experts said the age estimate appears sound. ~||~

“But some were skeptical that the rocks were really used as tools. Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona in Tucson said the paper shows the bones could have been broken the way the authors assert, but they haven’t demonstrated that’s the only way. Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, said he doesn’t reject the paper’s claims outright, but he finds the evidence “not yet solid.” For one thing, the dig turned up no basic stone cutting tools or evidence of butchery or the use of fire, as one might expect from Homo sapiens or our close evolutionary relatives.” ~||~

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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