Neanderthals are named after the German valley near Dusseldorf where the first Neanderthal fossils were discovered in 1856. Neanderthals survived the Ice Age, and were the first human species to adapt to cold climates.For a period of time, Neanderthals overlapped with humans and even had sex with them. Neanderthals and closely-related Denisovans are our closest extinct relatives. Several studies have shown that most people of Eurasian descent carry between and one and four percent of Neanderthal genes in their own genome. [Sources: Stephan Hall, National Geographic, October 2008; Rick Gore, National Geographic, January, 1996]
Neanderthals are thought to have evolved in Europe roughly 400,000 to 500,000 years ago, They lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and Middle East for up to 300,000 years until they died out or where assimilated by anatomically modern humans.around 30,000 years ago. They were stockier and stronger than humans. Fossil remains of Neanderthals have allowed scientists to discern their appearance in detail. The geneticist Svante Paabo said. “We know quite well what Neanderthals look like. They were quite more robust than modern humans ... more muscular and probably more adapted to living in a harsh northerly climate.”
Geologic Age: 300,000 to 28,000 years ago. This time period is difficult to date. Too young for potassium-argon dating and too old for carbon-dating. Linkage to Modern Humans: Whether they evolved from “Homo erectus” or archaic early man or some other hominin is still a matter of debate. Most scientists believe they originated in Africa 100,000 years ago and migrated to Asia and Europe.
Size: males: about 5 feet 4½ inches (165 centimeters), 185 pounds; females: 5 feet 2 inches, 145 pounds. Brain Size: Larger and just as well developed as modern humans. The skull of one specimen found in Amud, Israel had a cranial capacity of 1,740 cubic centimeters. The average modern human brain is 1,350 cubic centimeters.
Neanderthals lived mainly in Europe and migrated as far south as Israel and Spain during the ice ages. Flourishing in a relatively cold ice-age climate for 200,000 years, they lived in Europe at that time when it was covered by woods and grasslands that supported large herds of horses, reindeer, bison and species adapted for cold weather. During occasional subtropical periods that lasted for around 10,000 years or less, hippos lived in the Thames and hyenas and lions roamed parts of Russia. Scientists theorize that the Neanderthals arrived from a place with a warm climate, perhaps migrating south during the winter until they adapted to the colder climate.
A lot has been written about Neanderthals. There is a lot of anthropological, archaeological and paleontological — and even DNA data — on them, plus a lot theories about how they evolved, how they died out and what their relationship was to modern humans. In some respects they have captured our imagination more intensely than our own ancient ancestors have, perhaps because they were sort of like us but somehow weird and alien too.
Categories with related articles in this website: Neanderthals, Denisovans, Hobbits, Stone Age Animals and Paleontology (25 articles) factsanddetails.com; Early Hominins and Human Ancestors (23 articles) factsanddetails.com
Modern Humans 400,000-20,000 Years Ago (35 articles) factsanddetails.com; First Villages, Early Agriculture and Bronze, Copper and Late Stone Age Humans (33 articles) factsanddetails.com.
Websites and Resources on Neanderthals: Wikipedia: Neanderthals Wikipedia ; Neanderthals Study Guide thoughtco.com ; Neandertals on Trial, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/nova; The Neanderthal Museum neanderthal.de/en/ ; The Neanderthal Flute, by Bob Fink greenwych.ca. Websites and Resources on Prehistoric Art: Chauvet Cave Paintings archeologie.culture.fr/chauvet ; Cave of Lascaux archeologie.culture.fr/lascaux/en; Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) africanrockart.org; Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com; Australian and Asian Palaeoanthropology, by Peter Brown peterbrown-palaeoanthropology.net.
Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program humanorigins.si.edu ; Institute of Human Origins iho.asu.edu ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site becominghuman.org ; Talk Origins Index talkorigins.org/origins ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History amnh.org/exhibitions ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Human Evolution Images evolution-textbook.org; Hominin Species talkorigins.org ; Paleoanthropology Links talkorigins.org ; Britannica Human Evolution britannica.com ; Human Evolution handprint.com ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations genographic.nationalgeographic.com ; Humin Origins Washington State University wsu.edu/gened/learn-modules ; University of California Museum of Anthropology ucmp.berkeley.edu; BBC The evolution of man" bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ArchaeologyInfo.com ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life ; PBS Evolution: Humans pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/aso/tryit/evolution; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog johnhawks.net/ ; New Scientist: Human Evolution newscientist.com/article-topic/human-evolution; Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society paleoanthro.org; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization) iho.asu.edu/; The Leakey Foundation leakeyfoundation.org; The Stone Age Institute stoneageinstitute.org; The Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com ; Turkana Basin Institute turkanabasin.org; Koobi Fora Research Project kfrp.com; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa maropeng.co.za ; Blombus Cave Project web.archive.org/web; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution journals.elsevier.com/; American Journal of Physical Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Evolutionary Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Comptes Rendus Palevol journals.elsevier.com/ ; PaleoAnthropology paleoanthro.org.
Neanderthal Expert: Erik Trinkhaus, Washington University in St. Louis.
Neanderthal Skull Features
Skull Features: Large head, nose and face; heavy, bulging, boney browridge (often regarded as the hallmark of the Neanderthal skull); weak chin, protruding jaw, receding forehead and cheekbones. It lacks the strong boney chins and high foreheads of modern humans but has a broad face with a midsection thrust forward that makes the large nose look even bigger. Because their face below their eyes juts forward, their cheekbones angle to side instead of forward like modern humans.
Neanderthals had powerful jaws and strong teeth. Based on teeth wear patterns, some scientists say that Neanderthals used their front teeth like vises or a “third hand” to hold objects they were cutting with stone tools. Some scientists have theorized their pronounced browridges ridges may have been produced by growth changes cause by living a cold environment. Neanderthals looked different enough from us that if you saw one on a subway you would not mistake him for a modern human.
Large sinuses adjacent to the nose gave Neanderthal upper jaws and cheeks an inflated appearance. Large external nasal passages which were too large to warm incoming air in cold climates were likely a trait inherited from more tropical ancestors. The broad noses may have helped add moisture to the dry, cold air the breathed.
Neanderthal Body Features
Neanderthal footprint Body Features: Short limbed, thick bodied, adapted for cold weather like people in northern climates such as Lapps and Eskimos. Heavy bones, thick muscles, strong, capable of endurance. Judging by their massive arm and leg bones, and general skeletal structure, the strongest Neanderthal individuals could probably lift weights of half a ton or more. Their enormous rib cages encased large lungs capable of holding large amounts of oxygen needed for high levels of activity.
The short, stocky, barrel-chested bodies of Neanderthals and their relatively short limbs helped to conserve heat in cold climates and were ideally suited for ice age conditions. "In cold climates you want to have a thick body core to retain heat and a relatively small amount of surface areas from which to lose it," Erik Trinkaus, a Neanderthal specialist told National Geographic.
Neanderthals had wide shoulders and hips and generally had a body that was more suited for short powerful bursts of strength rather than endurance running. Sturdy, heavily-muscled limb bones evolved as a response to a demanding lifestyle. Large muscles were positioned in such a way that they provided maximum strength. Neanderthals were so strong, some scientists say, they could have butchered animals by simply tearing them from limb to limb.
A study by Fernando Ramirez Rozzi of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris published in Nature suggests that Neanderthals grew much quicker than modern humans with Neanderthal individual’s growing very quickly during adolescence and reaching adulthood around the age of 15. The conclusion was reached by studying the wear and tear on Neanderthal teeth and comparing them to with the bones they were found with plus human bones and teeth of a similar age.
Neanderthals, Dim-Witted Brutes or Intelligent as Humans?
In the past, Neanderthals were regarded as dim-witted creatures incapable of creating art or developing sophisticated tools. Recent discovers, however, have shown that Neanderthals did in fact create art and develop advanced tools as well as hunt in organized groups, care for the sick and aged and perform rituals that may have had a spiritual component. Furthermore they may have had a primitive language.
"Neanderthals were highly resourceful, highly intelligent creatures," Fred Smith, a Neanderthal specialist at Illinois University, told National Geographic. "They were not big, dumb brutes by any stretch of the imagination. They were us — only different." In recent years, researchers have discovered that Neanderthals used sophisticated bone tools, buried their dead, took care of their elders, used fire, produced cave art and engravings and maybe even adorned themselves with feathers.
Christopher Stringer of the Natural History Museum of London wrote in the Times of London, “Their braincases were big, but long and low, with a large browridge instead of the domed forehead of modern humans...We cannot be certain about how intelligent they were but the Neanderthals were capable hunters, gatherers and toolmakers. While it does not seem they were great innovators, during the final 30,000 years of their existence they started to make more advanced tools, showed increasing use of pigments and developed production of jewelry.”
Neanderthals Brains, Hair and Skin
A team lead by Bruce Lahn, a researcher at the Howard High Medical Center at the University of Chicago, published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which he suggested that Neanderthals may have passed on a gene to modern humans that provided them with a larger brain. Lahn’s team found a gene called microcephalin (MCPH1) that regulates brain size and appears to have entered the human lineage about 1.1 million years and has a modern form that appeared about 37,000 years ago — just before Neanderthals went extinct — evidence that is circumstantial at best.
Using DNA taken from the bones of two Neanderthals, whose remains were found in Italy and Spain, a team led by Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, determined that some Neanderthals had red hair and light skin, and possibly freckles, a view consistent with the idea that as they migrated northward Neanderthals benefits from light skin to enhance their ability to make vitamin D from sunlight. The finding was made by examining the MC1R gene, which affects the balance red-yellow and black-brown pigments in the skin. The two Neanderthal specimens had identical mutations in their MC1R genes, which tests indicated would have produced light skin and red hair if inherited from both parents. The MC1R found in Neanderthals is different that the version found in human, suggesting the two species developed the trait independently.
AFP reported: “Neanderthals are known to have had much larger skulls than people do today, and possibly larger brains, although this did not necessarily make them smarter. But little is known about how Neanderthals became this way. One theory is that they grew up faster – that Neanderthal children reached adult size more quickly than we do. “Previous studies suggesting this path have relied mainly on dental clues. [Source: Agence France-Presse September 22, 2017 /*]
“The latest study is based on a more complete specimen. The Neanderthal child’s skeleton included 36 percent of his left side and parts of his skull along with baby and adult teeth. After studying his remains, researchers believe that instead of simply outpacing contemporary people in brain growth, Neanderthals may have grown up over a longer period of time. “One mechanism of growing a larger brain would be expanding the period of growth,” Antonio Rosas, chairman of the Paleoanthropology Group at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, said. /*\
Rosas “also questioned the comparison to modern humans, since different rates of brain growth are common across various people and time periods. “Furthermore, assessments of Neanderthal brain size could be skewed high, because most of the specimens paleoanthropologists have belonged to males, who were physically larger than females. This may lead us to believe Neanderthals were bigger on average than they actually were, he added. “Therefore, trying to derive much meaning from small skull size differences might be a fruitless endeavour when the bigger picture is clear. “Neanderthal brain growth may or may not be like any human population, but surely seems to fit within the normal human range,” Milford Wolpoff, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, said. /*\
Neanderthal’s Massive Eyes Might Have Led To Their Extinction
Paul Jongko wrote in Listverse: “Neanderthals have larger eyes than modern humans. This fact led Eiluned Pearce of the University of Oxford to suggest that the massive eyes of Neanderthals might have caused their demise. Pearce believes that the big eyes meant that a large part of the Neanderthal’s brain was devoted to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions, like social networking. [Source: Paul Jongko, Listverse, May 14, 2016]
“When our extinct cousins faced big problems like climate change and competition from their human contemporaries, they were severely disadvantaged. Hypothetically, had the Neanderthals possessed the ability to form complex social networks, they could have possibly survived the catastrophes that led to their extinction.
“Not all scientists are convinced with Pearce’s theory and have even contradicted it. One of them is John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Together with his colleagues, Hawks examined 18 living primate species, and he discovered that “big eyes actually indicate bigger social groups.” Hawks asserts that the size of the eyes has nothing to do with the formation of social networks. Furthermore, he believes that the reason why Neanderthals had bigger eyes is that they were slightly larger than our ancient ancestors, and that their eyes had to be proportional to their bodies.”
Range and Size of Neanderthal Populations
Neanderthals lived primarily in Europe and the Middle East. Their remains have been found as far east as Iraq and Uzbekistan, as far south as Israel and Spain, as far west as England and as far north as 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.
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.
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.
When Neanderthal’s Lived
Neanderthals are believed to have lived between roughly 350,000 and 30,000 years ago, occupying an area that extended from Portugal in the west and central Asia in the east. They lived both in the interglacial and the glacial periods. After an ice age that covered half of Europe in glaciers, the interglacial period began around 130,000 years ago with a climate that was actually warmer than today’s; then, 85,000 years ago the last ice age began, ending 11,500 years ago. Neanderthal vanished from the fossil record around the time modern humans arrived in Europe.
Jon Mooallemjan wrote in the New York Times magazine: Neanderthals are “a separate, shorn-off branch of our family tree. We last shared an ancestor at some point between 500,000 and 750,000 years ago. Then our evolutionary trajectory split. We evolved in Africa, while the Neanderthals would live in Europe and Asia for 300,000 years. Or as little as 60,000 years. It depends whom you ask. It always does... What is clearer is that roughly 40,000 years ago, just as our own lineage expanded from Africa and took over Eurasia, the Neanderthals disappeared. Scientists have always assumed that the timing wasn’t coincidental. Maybe we used our superior intellects to outcompete the Neanderthals for resources; maybe we clubbed them all to death. Whatever the mechanism of this so-called replacement, it seemed to imply that our kind was somehow better than their kind. We’re still here, after all, and their path ended as soon as we crossed paths. [Source: Jon Mooallemjan, New York Times magazine, January 11, 2017 ||*||]
250,000 years ago The first Neanderthals appear in Europe.
200,000 years The first modern humans appear in Africa.
70,000 years The first modern humans leave Africa.
50-60,000 years Modern humans and Neanderthals share territory in Middle East.
45,000 years Modern humans enter Europe.
Neanderthals like modern humans and homo erectus in the Paleolithic Period (about 3 million years to 10,000 B.C.). This period — also spelled Palaeolithic Period and also called Old Stone Age — is a cultural stage of human development, characterized by the use of chipped stone tools. The Paleolithic Period is divided into three period: 1) Lower Paleolithic Period (2,580,000 to 200,000 years ago); 2) Middle Paleolithic Period (about 200,000 years ago to about 40,000 years ago); 3) Upper Paleolithic Period (beginning about 40,000 years ago). The three subdivisions are generally defined by the types of tools used — and their corresponding levels of sophistication — in each period. The period is studied through archaeology, the biological sciences, and even metaphysical studies including theology. Archaeology supplies sufficient information to provide some insight into the minds of Neanderthals and early Modern Humans (i.e. Cro Magnon Man) who lived during this time.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica: “The onset of the Paleolithic Period has traditionally coincided with the first evidence of tool construction and use by Homo some 2.58 million years ago, near the beginning of the Pleistocene Epoch (2.58 million to 11,700 years ago). In 2015, however, researchers excavating a dry riverbed near Kenya’s Lake Turkana discovered primitive stone tools embedded in rocks dating to 3.3 million years ago—the middle of the Pliocene Epoch (some 5.3 million to 2.58 million years ago). Those tools predate the oldest confirmed specimens of Homo by almost 1 million years, which raises the possibility that toolmaking originated with Australopithecus or its contemporaries and that the timing of the onset of this cultural stage should be reevaluated. “Throughout the Paleolithic, humans were food gatherers, depending for their subsistence on hunting wild animals and birds, fishing, and collecting wild fruits, nuts, and berries. The artifactual record of this exceedingly long interval is very incomplete; it can be studied from such imperishable objects of now-extinct culture. [Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica ^]
“At sites dating from the Lower Paleolithic Period (2,580,000 to 200,000 years ago), simple pebble tools have been found in association with the remains of what may have been some of the earliest human ancestors. A somewhat more-sophisticated Lower Paleolithic tradition known as the Chopper chopping-tool industry is widely distributed in the Eastern Hemisphere and tradition is thought to have been the work of the hominin species named Homo erectus. It is believed that H. erectus probably made tools of wood and bone, although no such fossil tools have yet been found, as well as of stone.^
“About 700,000 years ago a new Lower Paleolithic tool, the hand ax, appeared. The earliest European hand axes are assigned to the Abbevillian industry, which developed in northern France in the valley of the Somme River; a later, more-refined hand-ax tradition is seen in the Acheulean industry, evidence of which has been found in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Some of the earliest known hand axes were found at Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) in association with remains of H. erectus. Alongside the hand-ax tradition there developed a distinct and very different stone tool industry, based on flakes of stone: special tools were made from worked (carefully shaped) flakes of flint. In Europe the Clactonian industry is one example of a flake tradition. ^
“The early flake industries probably contributed to the development of the Middle Paleolithic flake tools of the Mousterian industry, which is associated with the remains of Neanderthals. Other items dating to the Middle Paleolithic are shell beads found in both North and South Africa. In Taforalt, Morocco, the beads were dated to approximately 82,000 years ago, and other, younger examples were encountered in Blombos Cave, Blombosfontein Nature Reserve, on the southern coast of South Africa. Experts determined that the patterns of wear seem to indicate that some of these shells were suspended, some were engraved, and examples from both sites were covered with red ochre. [Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica ^]
Neanderthals and early modern humans lived at a time when Ice Ages were shaping the climate and landscape of the places they lived in Europe and elsewhere. Ice Ages are periods of time when huge continental glaciers (sheets of ice) crept down from the Arctic and covered much of North America and Europe. The Pleistocene Age, which lasted from 1,000,000 (or 500,000) to 10,000 years ago, is regarded as the period of ice ages, even though the first Ice Age glaciers began appearing around 2 million years ago and large glaciers had covered landmasses for millions of years before that.
There were four main ices ages defined by the warming and cooling of the climate and expanding and retreating of glaciers. Scientists refer to the ice ages as glaciations and the warmer periods in between them as interglacial phases. The ice ages lasted tens of thousands of years as the glaciers expanded, reached a peak and then retreated.
The four main ice ages are (the names refer to the southern limit of the glaciers in Europe and, in parentheses, the United States): 1) the Günz (known in the U.S. as the Nebraskan) occurred around 2 million years ago); 2) the Mindel (known in the U.S. as the Kansan) occurred around 1.25 million years ago); 3) the Riss (known in the U.S. as the Illinoisian) occurred around 500,000 years ago); and 4) the Würm (known in the U.S. as the Wisconsin) occurred around 100,000 years ago).
See Separate Article ICE AGES AND ICE AGE GLACIERS factsanddetails.com
Early Neanderthal Discoveries
Schmerling Caves 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]
Our image of Neanderthals as "dim-witted brutes" originally came from Marcellin Boule, a French authority on fossils who reconstructed a near complete skeleton found in southwestern France, and claimed it had "prehensile feet, could not fully extend his legs, and thrust his head awkwardly forward because his spine prevented him from standing upright." In his scientific paper he described the "brutish appearance of this muscular and clumsy body."
Origin of Neanderthals
St. Michael's Cave in Gibralter Most scientists now agree that Neanderthals were a separate species from modern men. British paleontologist Christopher Stringer told Time, "They are a dead end — highly evolved in their own direction but not in the direction of modern humans." He backs up his argument with markedly differences between Neanderthal and “ Homo sapien “ skull specimens from Israel, where both species coexisted for thousands of years.
At one time some scientists believed that Neanderthals were a subspecies of “Homo sapiens” . Others theorize that Neanderthals and “ Homo sapiens” intermingled when the Ice Age caused their territories to overlap. Human like qualities in some Neanderthal skulls and jaw bones are offered as evidence that the two species are directly related to one another.
Most scientists believe that Neanderthals and “Homo sapiens” evolved from “Homo erectus“ but are unsure how the species diverged on separate evolutionary paths and what intermediary hominin species or subspecies were involved.
A study of Neanderthal and modern human skulls by a team lead by anthropologist Katerina Harvati of New York University concluded that modern humans did not descend from Neanderthals based on measurements on 15 standard landmark in the face and skull and the differences between Neanderthal and moderns humans were as great or greater as between humans and gorillas.
Neanderthals and Humans Split 550,000 and 765,000 Years Ago
In 2016, a team lead by Matthias Meyer,a molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, sequenced 430,000-year-old DNA from a cave in northern Spain, and has pushed back estimates of the time at which the ancient predecessors of humans split from those of Neanderthals to 550,000 and 765,000 years ago.[Source: Ewen Callaway, Nature, March 14, 2016]
Ewen Callaway wrote in Nature: “The analysis addresses confusion over which species the remains belong to. A report published in 2013 sequenced a femur’s mitochondrial genome — which is made up of DNA from the cell’s energy-producing structures that is more abundant in cells than is nuclear DNA. It suggested that at least one individual identified from the remains was more closely related to a group called Denisovans — known from remains found thousands of kilometres away in Siberia — than it was to European Neanderthals. “It’s wonderful news to have mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from something that is 430,000 years old. It’s like science fiction. It’s an amazing opportunity,” says Maria Martinón-Torres, a palaeoanthropologist at University College London.
The nuclear DNA, Meyer’s team,” reported in the March 14, 2016 issue of Nature, “shows that the Sima hominins are in fact early Neanderthals. And its age suggests that the early predecessors of humans diverged from those of Neanderthals between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago — too far back for the common ancestors of both to have been Homo heidelbergensis, as some had posited. Researchers should now be looking for a population that lived around 700,000 to 900,000 years ago, says Martinón-Torres. She thinks that Homo antecessor, known from 900,000-year-old remains from Spain, is the strongest candidate for the common ancestor, if such specimens can be found in Africa or the Middle East.”
Fossil Teeth Say: For Neanderthal-European Link Go Back to Africa
Geoffrey Mohan wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Scientists seeking the missing link between modern Europeans and Neanderthals ought to head back to Africa, according to a new study that could prune some of the younger branches of the evolutionary tree. Researchers took another look at a common fossil used to date early humans – teeth. By looking at the pattern of points on molars of European fossils, older African and Asian fossils, and modern humans, they arrived at a picture of what the teeth of a common ancestor might have looked like. [Source: Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2013 |**|]
““What we realized is that none of the species we have in the fossil record is similar to that ancestor morphology that we calculated as the most likely one,” said Aida Gomez-Robles, an anthropologist at George Washington University and lead author of the study published online Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We think that we didn’t find it because we actually don’t have this ancestor in the fossil record.” |**|
“Paleontologists have offered various fossil finds as a candidate for the common ancestor to Europeans, paramount among them Homo heidelbergensis, a tall and strong species that wandered out of Africa less than 800,000 years ago, and which was named for the southwestern German city near which it was found. |**|
Most DNA analysis places the split between Neanderthals and modern humans at roughly 400,000 years ago, give or take a few hundred thousand years. But Heidelberg man’s teeth tell a different tale, Gomez-Robles said. They are too similar to those of the famed species named for a cave in the Neander Valley, farther north. “It shows clear dental affinity with Neanderthals, and we think the reason for this is that they are already in the lineage leading from Neanderthals.” |**|
“The missing ancestor ought to have teeth that look a bit more like the choppers of Homo ergaster, which wandered around eastern and southern Africa 1.3 to 1.8 million years ago, according to the study. We can rule out all the European species as possible ancestors, because they are already in the line leading to Neanderthals, and we have an African species, which is the most similar one to the ancestor morphology,” Gomez-Robles said. “So the most intuitive explanation is that some African species posterior to Homo ergastor will be the ancestor.” |**|
“The study suggested that ages derived from DNA modeling were underestimated. Alternatively, teeth may have started changing more rapidly for modern humans, or tooth shape was changing before such species diverged. Neither of those hypotheses is supported by the data or by commonly accepted models of evolution, Gomez-Robles noted. A study published last week in the journal Science similarly shook the common view of the evolutionary tree, suggesting that several species dating to about 2 million years ago are instead one.” |**|
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.” ~||~
Neanderthals Survived Longer than Thought
In 2011, AP reported: “Neanderthal remains dating back 31,000 years — over 6,000 years after man's prehistoric cousin was presumed to have disappeared — have been unearthed in Russia near the Artic Circle, according to a study in the journal Science. "This site challenges the hypothesis that there was a complete replacement of the Neanderthal societies in all of Europe as early as around 37,000 calendar years," the authors wrote about their research released Thursday, and slated for the journal's May 13, 2011 issue. [Source: AFP, May 12, 2011]
The French, Russian and Norwegian researchers discovered more than 300 stone tools and the remains of several mammals, including mammoths, black bears and woolly rhinos that appear to have been butchered. The remains were unearthed during several excavations at the Byzovaya site in the foothills of the Urals on the right bank of the Pechora River. In addition to radiocarbon dating, the researchers used a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence, which allows them to tell when sediment has been exposed to light for the last time.
While Neanderthal Man occupied Eurasia at lower latitudes, Byzovaya could have been their last Nordic refuge before their extinction, according to the study's authors. Until now, Neanderthal remains have all come from areas at least 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Byzovaya. The objects discovered at Byzovaya, which appears to have been occupied just once in 3,000 years, belong to the Mousterian tool tradition used by Neanderthal Man, according to the authors. This culture developed during the Middle Paleolithic era in Eurasia 300,000 to 37,000 years ago and is distinguished by a wide range of stone tools.
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, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018