It is believed that Neanderthals traveled in groups of less than 30 individuals — most likely around 10 to 15, including children — and their total population at any one time probably only numbered in the few tens of thousands. The determination that group sizes were small is based on the limited remains found in burial sites and the modest size of the rock shelters they used.

Neanderthal stone tools were usually fashioned from stones found near to their remains which indicates they didn’t range far and trade with other Neanderthals. Similarity of tools across a wide area indicates technology was transferred from group to group.

It seems there was less gender specialization and social stratification among Neanderthal than with humans in that it seems that the entire Neanderthal group was involved in the hunting process rather than broken up into hunters (mostly male) and gatherers (mostly women and young) as was the case with modern humans.

Studies of Neanderthal teeth indicate they matured faster than humans with growth lines in the tooth of an eight-year-year old Neanderthal being equivalent to that of a 10- to 12-year-old human.

See Modern Human Society

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 Just Like Us?

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker: “At least on some occasions, they buried their dead. Also on some occasions, they appear to have killed and eaten each other. Wear on their incisors suggests that they spent a lot of time grasping animal skins with their teeth, which in turn suggests that they processed hides into some sort of leather. [Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, August 15, 2011]

Jon Mooallemjan wrote in the New York Times magazine: “Neanderthals weren’t the slow-witted louts we’ve imagined them to be — not just a bunch of Neanderthals. As a review of findings published last year put it, they were actually “very similar” to their contemporary Homo sapiens in Africa, in terms of “standard markers of modern cognitive and behavioral capacities.” We’ve always classified Neanderthals, technically, as human — part of the genus Homo. But it turns out they also did the stuff that, you know, makes us human. [Source: Jon Mooallemjan, New York Times magazine, January 11, 2017 ||*||]

“Neanderthals buried their dead. They made jewelry and specialized tools. They made ocher and other pigments, perhaps to paint their faces or bodies — evidence of a “symbolically mediated worldview,” as archaeologists call it. Their tracheal anatomy suggests that they were capable of language and probably had high-pitched, raspy voices, like Julia Child. They manufactured glue from birch bark, which required heating the bark to at least 644 degrees Fahrenheit — a feat scientists find difficult to duplicate without a ceramic container. In Gibraltar, there’s evidence that Neanderthals extracted the feathers of certain birds — only dark feathers — possibly for aesthetic or ceremonial purposes. And while Neanderthals were once presumed to be crude scavengers, we now know they exploited the different terrains on which they lived. They took down dangerous game, including an extinct species of rhinoceros. Some ate seals and other marine mammals. Some ate shellfish. Some ate chamomile. (They had regional cuisines.) They used toothpicks.||*||

“Wearing feathers, eating seals — maybe none of this sounds particularly impressive. But it’s what our human ancestors were capable of back then too, and scientists have always considered such behavioral flexibility and complexity as signs of our specialness. When it came to Neanderthals, though, many researchers literally couldn’t see the evidence sitting in front of them. A lot of the new thinking about Neanderthals comes from revisiting material in museum collections, excavated decades ago, and re-examining it with new technology or simply with open minds. The real surprise of these discoveries may not be the competence of Neanderthals but how obnoxiously low our expectations for them have been — the bias with which too many scientists approached that other Us. One archaeologist called these researchers “modern human supremacists.” ||*||

Neanderthal Life in Gorham’s Cave

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.”“ ||*||

Neanderthal Clothes

Neanderthals used animal skins to keep warm. Perhaps they wore bear skin coats. There is some debate as to whether Neanderthals practiced sewing or not. Scraping tools suggest that animal skins were made into clothing. A lack of stitching tool such as needles at Neanderthal sites means they probably wore unsewn hides. To tan buckskin, fur and inner hides were painstakingly scraped off and soaked in pulverized deer brains, and then wrung, stretched and hung to dry and then smoked to make it waterproof. Because their big, stocky bodies were adapted to cold weather, it is believed they ran naked in the hot summers.

Becky Wragg Sykes wrote in The Guardian: Some Neanderthals lived for some time in “really ice-blasted world. Research into how mammals – including humans – keep their body temperature at healthy levels suggests that even during the warmer parts of the last ice age, they would have needed decent body coverings.”[Source: Hadley Freeman, fashion expert, Becky Wragg Sykes, The Guardian May 20, 2013]

One “study looked at what modern day hunter-gatherers wear according to the local climate, and built a model predicting what Neanderthals would have needed to wear to stay warm. Even after correcting for Neanderthals being able to cope better with the cold, the results suggested they would have needed to cover at least 80 percent of their body during cold periods, especially hands and feet. |=|

“Quite astonishingly, there is physical evidence that Neanderthals more than 100,000 years ago were tanning animal skins – a stone tool from the site of Neumark-Nord in Germany has preserved scraps of organic material stuck to it that were soaked in tannin, the substance in oak bark used to make leather. It was probably part of the tool handle that got wet while the hides were being worked. Although they lacked fine needles of the sort found much later, Neanderthals didn't need these to sew their leather, as their abilities to make stone and wood tools were easily enough to produce a sharp piercing object for threading thong. |=|

Neanderthal Homes

Most Neanderthals remains have been found in caves, which were presumably their homes. Scientists found a four-walled structure built from rock in the back of one cave where Neanderthal remains were found. The caves occupied by Neanderthals and modern humans were often located in difficult to reach cliffsides that required a dizzying ascent to reach.

Neanderthals stayed at sites for long periods and didn’t change sites that much during the year. Long occupations of the same area often leads to depletions of food sources. “Homo sapiens” , by contrast, appeared to have occupied sites following a more sophisticated plan in tune with the weather and migration patterns of animals.

A posthole found at a Neanderthal site in southern France indicates that Neanderthals may have built crude tepee-like structures made with wood, mammoth bones and animal hides. Neanderthal's made fires in crude hearth — closer to campfires than stone-lined hearth used by modern humans — which some say shows that they were highly nomadic.

Neanderthals Organized Their Shelters

Spy Cave

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology in December 2013 suggests that Neanderthals kept their homes tidy and organized based on excavations at a cave in Italy Neanderthals appear to have purposely organized separate spaces for cooking, butchering and tool-making. "There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans," study researcher Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver, said in a statement. "But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere, but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space." [Source: Megan Gannon, Livescience, December 4, 2013 +++]

Megan Gannon of Live Science wrote: “Riel-Salvatore and colleagues discovered that Neanderthals may have been rather domestically inclined while the scientists were digging at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter on the coast of northwest Italy. Excavations revealed some "provocative patterns" of artifact distribution, the researchers wrote in their study detailed in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology. The scientists think the cave's ancient occupants divided the space into sections for different activities: a top level for butchering and preparing animals, a middle level for long-term living and a bottom level for use as a short-term base camp. +++

“In the main living level, a hearth was positioned near the back wall of the shelter, which likely allowed warmth to circulate among the living space. Meanwhile, stone tools and animal bones were concentrated at the front of the cave, the researchers say. "When you make stone tools there is a lot of debris that you don't want in high-traffic areas or you risk injuring yourself," Riel-Salvatore said. Alongside a hoard of animal remains in the back of the top level, the researchers also uncovered evidence of ochre, a natural brownish pigment. "We found some ochre throughout the sequence but we are not sure what it was used for," Riel-Salvatore explained in a statement. "Neanderthals could have used it for tanning hides, for gluing, as an antiseptic or even for symbolic purposes — we really can't tell at this point." +++

“The authors note that other Neanderthal sites in the archaeological record, such as Italy's Grotta Breuil, are not so tidy, suggesting that spatial organization of living spaces might not have been common to all Neanderthals. "This is ongoing work, but the big picture in this study is that we have one more example that Neanderthals used some kind of logic for organizing their living sites," Riel-Salvatore said. "This is still more evidence that they were more sophisticated than many have given them credit for. If we are going to identify modern human behavior on the basis of organized spatial patterns, then you have to extend it to Neanderthals as well."

Neanderthals Adept at Controlling Fire, Scientists Say

A study published in the March 14, 2011 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed clear evidence of the continuous control of fire by Neanderthals in Europe dating back roughly 400,000 years. According to the University of Colorado: “The conclusion comes from the study of scores of ancient archaeological research sites in Europe that show convincing evidence of long-term fire control by Neanderthals, said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. Villa co-authored a paper on the new study with Professor Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands. "Until now, many scientists have thought Neanderthals had some fires but did not have continuous use of fire," said Villa. "We were not expecting to find a record of so many Neanderthal sites exhibiting such good evidence of the sustained use of fire over time."[Source: University of Colorado Boulder, March 14, 2011 ^^^]

“Archaeologists consider the emergence of stone tool manufacturing and the control of fire as the two hallmark events in the technological evolution of early humans. While experts agree the origins of stone tools date back at least 2.5 million years in Africa, the origin of fire control has been a prolonged and heated debate. As part of the study Villa and Roebroeks created a database of 141 potential fireplace sites in Europe dating from 1.2 million years ago to 35,000 years ago, assigning an index of confidence to each site. Evidence for the sustained use of fire includes the presence of charcoal, heated stone artifacts, burned bones, heated sediments, hearths and rough dates obtained from heated stone artifacts. Sites with two or more of the characteristics were interpreted as solid evidence for the control of fire by the inhabitants. ^^^

“While the oldest traces of human presence in Europe date to more than 1 million years ago, the earliest evidence of habitual Neanderthal fire use comes from the Beeches Pit site in England dating to roughly 400,000 years ago, said Villa. The site contained scattered pieces of heated flint, evidence of burned bones at high temperatures, and individual pockets of previously heated sediments. Neanderthals, like other early humans, created and used a unique potpourri of stone tools, evidence that they were the ancient inhabitants of particular sites in Europe. ^^^

“The sites catalogued by the team were dated by several methods, including electron spin resonance, paleomagnetism and thermoluminescence. Some research teams also have used microscopic studies of sediment at sites to confirm the presence of ashes. While some of the best evidence for controlled use of fire in Europe comes from caves, there are many open-air sites with solid evidence of controlled fire, they said. ^^^

“According to Villa, one of the most spectacular uses of fire by Neanderthals was in the production of a sticky liquid called pitch from the bark of birch trees that was used by Neanderthals to haft, or fit wooden shafts on, stone tools. Since the only way to create pitch from the trees is to burn bark peels in the absence of air, archaeologists surmise Neanderthals dug holes in the ground, inserted birch bark peels, lit them and covered the hole tightly with stones to block incoming air. "This means Neanderthals were not only able to use naturally occurring adhesive gums as part of their daily lives, they were actually able to manufacture their own," Villa said. "For those who say Neanderthals did not have elevated mental capacities, I think this is good evidence to the contrary." ^^^

“Many archaeologists believe Neanderthals and other early hominins struck pieces of flint with chunks of iron pyrite to create the sparks that made fire and may well have conserved and transported fire from site to site. Recent findings have even indicated Neanderthals were cooking, as evidenced by tiny bits of cooked plant material recovered from their teeth.”

Fire and Debate about Which Hominins First Started Cooking

ancient fire-making method

Fire was used for heat, light and cooking. Fires and torches were the first forms of light. The first lamps, found in caves and dated to around 30,000 years ago, were hollowed and shaped and filled with animal grease and a natural fibre wick. There is some evidence that modern humans may have used lamps made of a fibrous wick fueled by animal fat as far back as 50,000 years ago. The first use of fire dates back to homo erectus around 1 million years ago but the there considerable debate about for what and how extensively it was used by homo erectus and the hominins that followed.

L.V. Anderson wrote on According to Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham, “H. erectus must have had fire—just look at their anatomy! H. erectus had smaller jaws and teeth (and smaller faces in general), shorter intestinal tracts, and larger brains than even earlier hominins, such as Australopithecus afarensis, for instance, who were boxier, more apelike, and probably duller. Wrangham argues that H. erectus would not have developed its distinctive traits if the species hadn’t been regularly eating softer, cooked food. [Source: L.V. Anderson,, October 5, 2012 \~/]

“If H. erectus didn’t bring fire mastery to Europe, who did? Archaeologists Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands and Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum found evidence for frequent use of fire by European Neanderthals between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago. Roebroeks and Villa looked at all the data collected at European sites once inhabited by hominins and found no evidence of fire before about 400,000 years ago—but plenty after that threshold. Evidence from Israeli sites put fire mastery at about the same time. H. sapiens arrived on the scene in the Middle East and Europe 100,000 years ago, but our species didn’t have a discernible impact on the charcoal record. Roebroeks and Villa conclude that Neanderthals must have been the ones who mastered fire. \~/

“One of the beautiful things about the archaeological record is that archaeologists are always willing to debate about it. Attributing fire to Neanderthals is an overly confident reading of the evidence, according to archaeologist Dennis Sandgathe of British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University. Of course the number of campsites with evidence of fire increased between 1 million and 400,000 years ago, he says—the number of campsites, period, increased during this time in proportion with population growth. But that doesn’t mean the use of fire was universal among European hominins—there are plenty of Neanderthal campsites out there that show little or no evidence of fire, and Sandgathe has personally excavated some of them. What’s more, Sandgathe told me when I asked him about Roebroeks’ and Villa’s data, “We actually have better data than they do when it comes to Neanderthal use of fire.” \~/

“According to Sandgathe and his colleagues, hominins didn’t really master fire until around 12,000 years ago—well after Neanderthals had disappeared from the face of the planet (or merged into the human gene pool via interbreeding, depending on your view). Sandgathe and his colleagues excavated two Neanderthal cave sites in France and found, surprisingly, that the sites’ inhabitants used hearths more during warm periods and less during cold periods. Why on earth would Neanderthals not build fires when it was freezing outside? In “On the Role of Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe: Evidence from Pech de l’Aze´ IV and Roc de Marsal, France,” Sandgathe advances the hypothesis that European Neanderthals simply didn’t know how to make fire. All they could do was harvest natural fires—those caused by lightning, for instance—to occasionally warm their bodies and cook their food. (This explains why Sandgathe found more evidence of fire from warm periods: Lightning is far less common during cold spells.) \~/

“Roebroeks and Villa think Sandgathe’s reasoning is flawed: After all, there isn’t evidence of fire at every modern human campsite, either, when you look at sites from the Upper Paleolithic period, which concluded about 10,000 years ago. “However, nobody would argue that Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were not habitual users of fire,” they wrote in a response to Sandgathe et al.’s criticism of their work. Wrangham, meanwhile, thinks both Sandgathe et al. and Roebroeks et al. ignore some critical nonarchaeological evidence: his point that contemporary humans can’t survive on a diet of uncooked food. Accepting Sandgathe’s hypothesis, Wrangham wrote in an email, “means that the contemporary evidence is wrong, or that humans have adapted to need cooked food only in the last 12,000 years. Both suggestions are very challenging!” \~/

Neanderthal Boys Similar to Modern Boys, Skull Reveals

two-year-old Neanderthal

An analysis of the skull of a Neanderthal boy found in Spain suggests that he grew up much like a modern boy, another sign that Neanderthals were similar to us, researchers said. AFP reported: “The rare discovery of a child’s partial skeleton was found among the remains of seven adults and five other youths at the 49,000-year-old archeological site of El Sidron. The seven-year-old boy, known as El Sidron J1 according to the report in the journal Science, is the first juvenile Neanderthal to be studied from the area. “What we see in this Neanderthal is that the general pattern of growth is very similar to modern humans,” said co-author Luis Rios, member of the Paleoanthropology Group at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, during a conference call with reporters. [Source: Agence France-Presse September 22, 2017 /*]

“He was still growing when he died, and his brain was about 87.5 percent the size of an average adult Neanderthal brain, said the report. A modern human boy would be expected to have a brain weight about 95 percent of an adult’s by that age, it added. An analysis of his vertebrae showed some had not yet fused. These same bones tend to fuse in contemporary people at a younger age, between four and six. /*\

“Adam Van Arsdale, associate professor of anthropology at Wellesley College who was not involved in the study, described the differences between Neanderthals and humans in the paper as “subtle.” The study is “an important contribution to our understanding of human evolution,” and “consistent with a now vast and growing body of research that demonstrates the similarities between Neanderthals and living humans,” he said. It also sheds new light on the history of human development. Neanderthals evolved separately – in western Eurasia – from humans who emerged from Africa, but they had plenty in common. /*\

“Just how the Neanderthal child died is a mystery. Scientists have found no evidence of disease, and described him as “sturdy,” weighing 57 pounds (26 kilograms) and standing just over three and a half feet tall. But his bones also contained marks similar to other remains at the cave, where other studies have suggested cannibalism may have been rampant. “The bones have some marks, but we do not know the cause of death,” co-author Antonio Rosas, chairman of the Paleoanthropology Group at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, said. /*\

“Researchers said there are limits to what can be inferred about the social aspects of Neanderthal childhood and development from the study. “We have to be very cautious because we have studied one skeleton,” said Rios.Milford Wolpoff, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, agreed “that Neandertals may have had extended period of brain growth.” But he questioned the authors’ attempt to age the child so precisely. “Age determination for dead people is at best an estimate, and giving an age estimate to two decimal places (they say 7.69 years of age) really overstates the accuracy that is possible,” said Wolpoff, who was not involved in the study. /*\

Baby Neanderthal Breast-Fed for Seven Months

A baby Neanderthal who lived in present-day Belgium about 100,000 years ago, started eating solid food at seven months old, implying that it breast-fed until then. Stephanie Pappas wrote in Live Science: “The precision of this estimate is courtesy a new technique that uses elements in teeth to determine when breast-feeding started and stopped. Though researchers can't be sure the young Neanderthal's pattern was typical of its kind, such a breast-feeding pattern is not unlike that seen in many modern humans. "Breast-feeding is such a major event in childhood, and it's important for so many reasons," study researcher Manish Arora, a research associate at Harvard's School of Public Health, told LiveScience. "It's a major determinate of child health and immune protection, so breast-feeding is important both from the point of view of studying our evolution as well as studying health in modern humans." [Source: Stephanie Pappas, Live Science, May 22, 2013 /*/]

“Until now, however, no one had an effective way of looking at bones and reconstructing breast-feeding history. Past attempts had relied on moms' memories of when they started supplementing breast milk with solid food and when they weaned their babies. Those memories can be fuzzy years after the fact, Arora said. He and his colleagues had an advantage: A large study of pregnant women in Monterey County, Calif., that started when the women were only 20 weeks along in their pregnancies and followed them for years. At seven years and onward, the mothers were asked to donate a baby tooth their child had lost. Arora and his colleagues analyzed the teeth for biomarkers that matched changes in the child's breast-feeding status. The researchers also conducted a similar analysis in macaques. /*/

“They found that both in humans and macaques, the ratio of the elements barium and calcium in the teeth revealed what the baby had been eating when those teeth formed. The researchers analyzed the enamel (the outer layer of the tooth) and the dentine (the mineralized layer that supports the enamel). The parts of the teeth that form in the gums before birth have very little barium, Arora said, probably because only a small amount of the element gets into the fetus through the placenta. After birth, barium spikes and stays high in the tooth enamel and dentine. If a baby transitions to formula, the barium levels get even higher, as formula has even higher levels of barium than breast milk. The profile changes again when babies (or macaques) start adding solid food to their diet of breast milk. "You find the amount of barium we can absorb from solid foods such as vegetables and meats is different from what we get from breast milk, so we can see this period of exclusive breast-feeding," Arora said. /*/

“The researchers could pinpoint weaning with great precision. For example, researchers knew one baby macaque had been separated from its mother and abruptly weaned at 166 days of life. The tooth analysis method estimated that this weaning occurred between 151 and 183 days of life — a matter of just weeks' difference from the actual date. /*/

“Barium has the advantage of resiliency compared with other elements, so Arora and his colleagues tested their new method on a very old tooth. They used a molar from the Scladina Neanderthal, a fossilized juvenile found in Belgium. Similar patterns as in humans and macaques appeared: a barium increase at birth, which stayed high until the Neanderthal was about 7 months old. At that point, the tooth indicated, the Neanderthal baby went into a transitional diet, consuming breast milk supplemented by solid food. The pattern is one that today's parenting experts would likely approve. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breast-feeding babies for at least six months after birth, followed by the gradual introduction of solid foods. /*/

The Neanderthal's mixed diet continued for seven months until 14 months of age, when the baby abruptly weaned. No one knows what happened, Arora said. It's possible the Neanderthal became separated from its mother, or perhaps the mother got pregnant or gave birth to a younger sibling and cut her older child off from the breast. So far, Arora and his colleagues have tested only the Scladina Neanderthal, and they aren't sure whether its weaning pattern is typical of the species.” The researchers reported their findings in May 23, 2013 issue of in the journal Nature. /*/

Neanderthal Children Played With Toy Axes and Went to School?

Neanderthal children may have played with toy axes and gone to school, researchers believe. Tom Porter wrote in the International Business Times: “Archaeologists have studied Neanderthal sites across Europe, collecting bones and artefacts, building a picture of everyday life in prehistoric communities. Instead of caveman life being nasty, brutish and short, the team believes that it was formed around tightly bonded families, where children were educated, and the elderly and disabled supported. */ "The reputation of the Neanderthals is changing. Partly that's because they have been shown to have bred with us – and that implies similarities to us – but also because of the emerging evidence of how they lives," Penny Spikins, a researcher in human origins at York University, told the Sunday Times. [Source: Tom Porter. International Business Times, April 13, 2014 */] “In a paper, she and her colleagues identify three sites, two of them in England, where toy-like hand axes were found. They believe that Neanderthal children may also have been schooled in how to make tools. At one site in France and another in Belgium, stones were found that had been skilfully crafted alongside others that were inexpertly chipped, as if by learning children. "Learning how to make hand axes may have been part of the adult sculpting of emotional self-control in children," said Spikins. **/

“She believes that as well as being schooled, Neanderthal children may have played games like peek-a-boo. "Peek-a-boo and various throwing and swinging play occur in great apes as well as humans, and albeit by implication, perhaps also in Neanderthals," said the paper. Spikins said that the research may help establish a more nuanced view of Neanderthals, and help overturn assumptions that they were evolution's losers. **/

Neanderthal Language and Right-Handedness

Scientists believe that Neanderthals may have had a spoken language based on the fact that they had hyoid bones — which hold up the voice box in modern humans — virtually identical to those in modern humans and a hypoglossal canal — a bony canal in the occipital bone of the skull theorized role to have a role in speech;. Christopher Stringer of the Natural History Museum of London told National Geographic, "They may not have had language as complex as ours. We have symbolism. They may not have all had all that, but at least they could talk to each other." Some scientists dismiss the presence of the hypoglossal canal as evidence of speech, pointing out that monkeys and apes have the same size canal. Neanderthals posses the same version of the gene FOXP2, which has been linked it speech and language, as humans.

Paul Jongko wrote in Listverse: “Right-handed people vastly outnumber lefties. It’s estimated that 70 to 95 percent of Earth’s population are righties, and studies show that the Neanderthals might have been predominantly right-handed as well. In 1957, a Neanderthal skeleton named Regourdou was discovered in France. Scientists had speculated that Regourdou was right-hand dominate because his right arm was more muscular than his left arm. At that time, there was no method available that would have verified the veracity of this hypothesis. [Source: Paul Jongko, Listverse, May 14, 2016 ]

“In 2012, a team of researchers came up with a unique approach that solved the Neanderthal handedness mystery. Led by David Frayer of the University of Kansas, the scientists conducted a complex analysis of Regourdou’s shoulders and arms and then connected the results with the scratch marks on the Neanderthal’s teeth. They discovered that Regourdou had more right-angled scratches on almost all of his teeth, indicating that he was indeed right-handed. Proving that most Neanderthals were right-handed, the significance indicates that our extinct cousins had the capacity for language.”

Neanderthal Health

Neanderthals no doubt lived hard lives. The bones of many adults had healed fractures, particularly in the legs and skull. Some believe they sustained such injuries from battling animals up close. They also suffered from a wide range of ailments, including pneumonia and malnourishment. Few survived beyond the age of 30.

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.

The ill and injured Neanderthals mentioned above would have had difficulty taking care of themselves. Somebody had to at least feed and protect them while they were recuperating. This is regarded as an indication that Neanderthals took care of the sick and aged.

There is some suggestion that Neanderthals didn't wash and may have used herbal ointments. In May 2007 an article published on the website of the newspaper El Pais reported that two molars of a 63,400-year-old Neanderthal indicated that Neanderthals practiced dental hygiene. The teeth, unearthed in the Pinall delValle near Madrid, have “grooves formed by the passage of a pointed object, which confirms the use of a small stick for cleaning the mouth” Prof. Juan Luis Asuanga told Reuters.

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker: “By now, scores of Neanderthal sites have been excavated, from western Spain to central Russia and from Israel to Wales. They give lots of hints about what Neanderthals were like, at least for those inclined to speculate. Neanderthals were extremely tough—this is attested to by the thickness of their bones—and probably capable of beating modern humans to a pulp. They were adept at making stone tools, though they seem to have spent tens of thousands of years making the same tools over and over, with only marginal variation. [Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, August 15, 2011]

“Neanderthal skeletons very often show evidence of disease or disfigurement. The original Neanderthal, from Mettmann, for example, seems to have suffered and recovered from two serious injuries, one to his head and the other to his left arm. The Neanderthal whose nearly complete skeleton was found in La Chapelle endured, in addition to arthritis, a broken rib and kneecap. Both individuals survived into their fifties, which indicates that Neanderthals had the capacity for collective action, or, if you prefer, empathy. They must—at least sometimes—have cared for their wounded.

Neanderthals Had Herpes

Paul Jongko wrote in Listverse: “Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by two types of viruses: herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2. In the United States, it is estimated that one in six people from age 14 to 49 suffer from this STD. Contrary to popular belief, genital herpes is not a modern illness. It’s an ancient disease that has plagued mankind for thousands of years. New research suggests that Neanderthals might have suffered from this STD also, and it might have contributed to their extinction. [Source: Paul Jongko, Listverse, May 14, 2016 ]

“Researchers Simon Underdown from Oxford Brookes University and Charlotte Houldcroft of the University of Cambridge concluded that Neanderthals suffered from genital herpes after analyzing pathogen genomes and ancient DNA. They suggested that it was modern humans who gave the dreadful disease to Neanderthals.

“Around 100,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals started to interact and interbreed with each other. We all carry 2 to 5 percent of Neanderthal DNA as a result of this interbreeding. Aside from genital herpes, researchers also suggest that modern humans gave Neanderthals tapeworms and stomach ulcers.

Neanderthal Medicine

Researchers studying the teeth of Neanderthals in Spain found that they may have used naturally occurring painkillers to ease toothache, eating poplar, a source of aspirin, and had also consumed moldy vegetation including penicillium fungus, source of a natural antibiotic. They also consumed bitter-tasting medicinal plants such as chamomile and yarrow.

Paul Jongko wrote in Listverse: Chamomile is known to calm an upset stomach, while yarrow is used to alleviate toothache. This discovery was significant because eating plants with no nutritional value suggested that Neanderthals possessed a detailed knowledge of their environment—they were more intelligent and resourceful than previously thought.” [Source: Paul Jongko, Listverse, May 14, 2016 ]

According to the University of Adelaide: “Apparently, Neanderthals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and seem to be self-medicating. The use of antibiotics would be very surprising, as this is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin. Certainly our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination.” [Source: University of Adelaide and the Spanish National Research Council, March 9, 2017 **/]

“While studies have shown that one of the El Sidrón individuals was a left-handed adult female, one other individual is considered the ‘Star of the Show’ by the project investigators. As previous studies have pointed out, this male individual appears to have used his mouth to sharpen the blades of stone tools (rather like a third hand), leading to chipping on the enamel and dentine on his upper teeth. Now, the study of his dental plaque has brought new and quite unique information to light. “We have evidence that this Neanderthal was self-medicated. We have discovered that the plaque preserved in his teeth contains sequences of the pathogen Enterocytozoon bieneusi which causes gastrointestinal problems, including serious diarrhoea. Additionally, thanks to a hole in his jaw we know he had a dental abscess. Both health issues must have caused him intense pain”, Rosas points out. **/

“What is more, this Neanderthal’s dental plaque contains traces of DNA from both the natural antibiotic fungus, penicillium, as well as from poplar, a tree whose bark, roots and leaves contain silicic acid, the active ingredient in well-known medications. This is not the first nod in this direction, given that the researchers at El Sidrón had already taken part in a study which clearly showed that Neanderthals recognised the curative and nutritional properties of some plants, since they took camomile and yarrow, most probably to help digest heavy meals.” **/

Neanderthals Used Toothpicks and Had Healthy Teeth

Paul Jongko wrote in Listverse: “Speaking of molars and incisors, scientists discovered that Neanderthals knew how to clean their teeth by using toothpicks. This finding was made after 13 Neanderthal skeletons were discovered in the El Sidron cave in Spain and are believed to be at least 49,000 years old. Anita Radini, an archaeologist at the University of York in United Kingdom, and her team examined the teeth of these unearthed skeletons and discovered traces of conifer wood trapped in the dental calculus (fossilized plaque) in some of the teeth. It led them to believe that our extinct cousins had used barks of wood to clean their teeth and to alleviate gum pain. It could also suggest that Neanderthals used their teeth as a “third hand” to hold wooden tools. [Source: Paul Jongko, Listverse, May 14, 2016 ]

“This recent finding isn’t that surprising for many scientists. Previous studies have shown that our extinct cousins knew how to make the most of their campsite surroundings, including wood. They were also capable of creating tar-like pitch, fire pits, and wooden spears.

“Recently, researchers also found that Neanderthals had healthier teeth compared to their human contemporaries. One study showed that our extinct cousins lost fewer teeth than humans with equivalent diets. Researchers Tim Weaver and Cassandra Gilmore of the University of California Davis compared the teeth of modern humans, Neanderthals, and other primates (such as baboons, orangutans, and chimpanzees). They discovered that it was modern humans who had the worst teeth, and that the Neanderthals kept their teeth longer with fewer cavities.

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, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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