After reading this thread www.abovetopsecret.com...
, it occurred to me that some members may actually be
interested in examining the fossil evidence of Homo neandertalensis
instead of making bunny jokes befitting the Monty Python ensemble. This
thread does not make any major, definite inferences concerning Neanderthal demise, but does illustrate the highlights of the fossil record on this
most fascinating hominid species. Neanderthal, as most know by now, were not the dumb brutes that drove themselves to extinction through their own
ineptitude as many once mistakenly thought. In fact, to the contrary, they demonstrated a mastery over nature that earlier hominid species all but
failed to do. The fossil evidence shows that they were skillful, innovative, adaptive, and creative.
Neanderthals made and used a diverse set of sophisticated tools, controlled fire, lived in shelters, made and wore clothing, were skilled hunters
of large animals and also ate plant foods, and occasionally made symbolic or ornamental objects. There is evidence that Neanderthals deliberately
buried their dead and occasionally even marked their graves with offerings, such as flowers. No other primates, and no earlier human species, had ever
practiced this sophisticated and symbolic behavior.
Although I am not an expert paleo-archaeologist, I am well-acquainted with the hominid fossil record and would like to give respect back to this
The binomial classification of the Neanderthal is Homo neandertalensis
. To illustrate the confusion over how to classify this hominid species,
some paleoanthropologists even include it as a subspecies of H. sapiens
; identifying them as Homo sapiens-neandertalensis
anatomically modern humans are referred to as H. sapiens sapiens
.) When it comes down to it, Neanderthals are perhaps the closest hominid
resembling anything to a human race, or subspecies. I, for one, find it astonishing and highly interesting to think that we shared the planet with
another intelligent hominid species at one point.
Why the confusion over classifying them? Because Neanderthals are anatomically similar to modern humans, and sometimes fit neatly into the phylogenies
of human evolution, but there is also enough variation, both in physical and genetic terms, to suggest that they were a unique, differentiated
species. Neither conclusion can safely be called definite at this time. Evidence points in both directions.
Neanderthal remains have been discovered ranging from about 500,000 years ago (Atapuerca, Spain) to as recently as 30,000 years. The so-called classic
Neanderthal was primarily unearthed in Western Europe, but specimens have been found in East Europe as well as on the Western portion of the Asian
One of the most complete neandertalensis
skeletons was discovered in Southwest France (La Chapelle-aux-Saints) in 1908. Pictured above, it is
estimated to be roughly 50,000 years old. It was found in context with other hominid long bones and with a non-hominid long bone; along with animal
bone fragments and flint tools. Because the skeletal remains were found in a unique ‘flexed’ position where the knees were drawn up to its chest,
it was initially believed that this was not an erect-walking species.
Compared to anatomically modern humans, the Neanderthal shares a very similar skeletal structure, but has a marked robustness and prognathism
(protrusion of the facial bones and features beyond the eye sockets; which is consistent with earlier hominids. Modern humans show very little
prognathism.) Additionally, the Neanderthal has a shorter limb proportion than humans do. This is speculated to be an environmental adaptation to cold
environments, and it is seen in some H. sapiens
groups alive today. Consider the Inuit vs. the Masai—where limb proportion and length is
correlated to the climate for the sake of conserving or releasing body heat (think surface area, etc.)
With thick, short lower arm and leg bones making up a very strong and compact body, Neanderthals were more heavily built than modern humans and
were more efficient at conserving body heat, allowing them to withstand living in cold climates during ice ages.
There are several other fossils found in this region of Europe (Neanderthal refers to the Neander Valley between France and Germany.) What is most
intriguing about this location is that there were modern humans inhabiting this region at times contemporary to neandertalensis
. It is
hypothesized that the Neanderthals modified their existing tool technology based on the industry of anatomically modern humans. If this were the case,
it is a proponent to show that information was being transmitted from one species to the other.
Furthermore, a Neanderthal burial site near Vindija, Croatia reveals some of the most convincing evolutionary links between H.neandertalensis
and H. sapiens.
a team of investigators report that the most recent remains found in the Vindija cave…indicate that Neanderthals and modern man must have
coexisted in central Europe for at least six millennia.
And we all know what happens when hominids co-habit, right?
Other findings from Vindija are even more intriguing. It appears that the two groups, at the very least, traded with each other--and may even have
The approximately 35 individuals recovered from this site dated 32K-42Kya show less prognathism, less robustness, and smaller brow ridges than their
western European Neanderthal counterparts. In fact, they look surprisingly similar to modern humans of that chronology and region.
There was some question as to whether neandertalensis
was capable of speech. A partial skeleton dating to about 60Kya was found in 1983 in
Kebara, Israel, but it was the first time a hyoid bone was recovered. With this discovery came the very practical possibility that the Neanderthal had
speech capabilities as the hyoid bone is an essential component for hominid vocalization. What is especially intriguing is how similar this 60,000
year old find is to hyoid bones found in modern humans. It is not unreasonable to assume that H. neandertalensis
had language. We all know the
significance between language and intelligence, right?
Notably, however, Kebara 2 includes a preserved bone from the base of the tongue (hyoid bone), which indicates a large mouth with the possibility
of fully modern human speech capabilities.
In Shanidar, Iraq was another important fossil find.
There had been a crushing blow to the left side of the head, fracturing the eye socket, displacing the left eye, and probably causing blindness on
that side. He also sustained a massive blow to the right side of the body that so badly damaged the right arm that it became withered and useless;
the bones of the shoulder blade, collar bone, and upper arm are much smaller and thinner than those on the left. The right lower arm and hand are
missing, probably not because of poor preservation…but because they either atrophied and dropped off, or because they were amputated.
The fossils also reveal that this individual survived a number of years after receiving this trauma, very likely due to the charity of others. As a
personal, unprofessional opinion
, this evidence makes me look towards the possibility of Neanderthal having language once again. Similarly,
Erik Trinkaus, who studied the remains in-depth cites this as an example of “Neandertal compassion.”
The Neanderthal improved upon previous stone tool industries. They used a technique (Mousterian) to produce more stone flakes from a core that could
be fashioned into a variety of tools; primarily scrapers, points, and knives (each serving a specific purpose.)
The Mousterian stone tool industry of Neanderthals is characterized by sophisticated flake tools that were detached from a prepared stone core.
This innovative technique allowed flakes of predetermined shape to be removed and fashioned into tools from a single suitable stone.
Although there is little evidence to suggest that the Neanderthal developed bone tools, they were expert craftsmen designing specialized tools for
skinning, processing meat, hunting, fashioning wood, and even sewing. (Craftspeople though they were, modern H. sapiens
may have had an edge
when it came to hunting with the development of the atlatl. It is supported that humans had a significant hunting advantage with long-range projectile
weapons; whereas neandertalensis
had the thrusting spear.) It is also accepted that hunting large game was an especially dangerous subsistence
method and the fossil record indicates that many individuals sustained head and neck injuries which Trinkaus found consistent with modern rodeo
Subsistence methods were diverse:
Isotopic chemical analyses of Neanderthal bones also tell scientists the average Neanderthal’s diet consisted of a lot of meat… There is also
evidence from Gibraltar that when they lived in coastal areas, they exploited marine resources such as mollusks, seals, dolphins and fish.
So, it can be established that a major staple in the Neanderthal diet was processed meat through hunting (which is also supported by their various
stone tools for the tasks of hunting and processing meat etc.) But there is evidence that they exploited multiple food sources.
Scientists have also found plaque on the remains of molar teeth containing starch grains—concrete evidence that Neandertals ate plants.
Did Neanderthal have a fashion sense? Probably not, but what they did have was purely functional and required some precise tailoring.
Neanderthals faced a considerable heat loss problem. Wearing tailored clothes or some similar measure was necessary for survival. An animal skin
across the shoulder would not have sufficed to survive even average cold winter temperatures and body cooling by convection caused by wind. Clothes
and particularly footwear had to be sewn together tightly in order to prevent intrusion of water or snow.
Another astonishing behavior that neandertalensis
practiced was burial of their dead. Many of the archaeological sites containing Neanderthal
remains have been determined to be burial sites containing multiple individuals. Think back to our first fossil example of the man found in La
Chapelle-aux-Saints who was found in context with stone tools. Recall that he was also found in a ‘flexed’ position. As more Neanderthals were
excavated, it was found that this was not just an arbitrary posture, but a deliberate one. Some burial sites have found skeletal remains in context
with stone tools, deliberate placement of animal bones, a slab of stone resembling a burial marker, and even floral arrangements! Despite this, some
doubt persists because of an apparent inconsistency with these burial behaviors.
We know that Homo neandertalensis
was a very sophisticated hominid compared to other hominid predecessors. We know that they had a relatively
innovative stone tool industry that improved greatly on previous methods. We know that they cared for their injured and infirmed with successful
results. We know that they had various subsistence methods and had multiple food sources. We know that they crafted ornamental pieces as well as
functional garments. We know they were capable and creative when adapting to their environments.
It is surmised that they were capable of carrying out symbolic rituals such as deliberate burials.
It is possible (and if structure serves function) that the anatomically modern hyoid bone means that they probably had linguistic capabilities.
(Though this is not entirely confirmed; DNA evidence may provide a breakthrough pertaining to language capability.)
But there is one other thing I’d like to point out concerning H. neandertalensis
. We know that the Neanderthal was generally more robust and
muscular than modern human counterparts, but one thing I feel that is chiefly ignored when considering the fossil and cultural evidence, is the
comparatively larger cranial size.
(note that #4 is an H. neandertalensis
cranium and #5 is an H. sapiens
There is a rule in primatology that states (with good reason) that the larger the cranium capacity of the hominid, the greater is their potential to
display intelligence. Of course hominids come in different sizes, so cranial capacity is only partially correlated to body size. But in cross-species
comparisons of hominids, as body size increases, brain size/cranial volume increases at a different rate. However, generally, this rule is true and
consistent when comparing hominids and their cranial volumes.
With the average cranial capacity for modern human specimens being about 1,300-1,400 cubic centimeters, and the average cranial capacity for
Neanderthals being about 1,500 cubic centimeters (many specimens measuring over 1,600 cm cubed)—it would be realistic to assume that they possessed
a competitive level of intelligence to modern humans.
This discrepancy in the model for hominid cranial capacity isn’t easy to dismiss, but perhaps there is a pragmatic way to explain the downfall of an
intelligent hominid species: metabolic cost. The larger the brain, the more dire is the need for fuel to keep it functioning. Were the Neanderthals
simply too smart for their own good? Did the metabolic cost of their larger brains ultimately lead to their downfall as they were unable to adapt to a
sudden change in available foods? Combine that with the seemingly more versatile projectile tools that humans had developed. If there were a sudden
change in available food sources, it could very well have come down to competition between hominid species. I’m hardly qualified to provide an
answer, but find this to be one the most intriguing and profound mysteries in paleo-archaeology.
However, I find it very difficult to believe, as the theory is portrayed in my sister thread, that the Neanderthal was overcome by their inability to
hunt rabbits. It is evident in the fossil evidence that they were capable of adapting to various regions and climates, were able to exploit multiple
food sources, and were very likely capable of abstract, symbolic thought to some degree.
However, in respect to the other thread, I must concede that it is shown again and again that a sudden, drastic change in environment leads to the
extinction of a species, and/or the death of a culture. Finding exactly what this sudden, unanticipated environmental change was will require more
concrete evidence to sway my opinion.
[note on sources: most of the information shared here comes direct from my own notes, essays, and textbooks, but I have made an attempt to provide
supplemental sources that, nonetheless, back up the claims to provide accurate information. If there is an instance where a source is lacking or
incomplete, just ask me and I will resolve the issue.
Some information that I have shared may appear contradictory in relation to the supplemental online sources. I will provide an example: The excavation
of La Chapelle-aux-Saints is said to be 60,000 years old in the humanorigins.edu source, but I have given precedence to my textbook source which
establishes a date of about 50,000 years. Likewise, various sources may give differing averages of cranial capacities found among hominids. Again, I
just have to give precedence to my notes and text; and again, the numbers will vary from source-to-source with different samples being measured etc.
Oh, and the source humanorigins.edu will take you directly to the overview page. Either have fun exploring the site,or ask me for any clarification on
Any other confusion? Just ask!]
edit on 3-3-2013 by NarcolepticBuddha because: (no reason given)