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Neanderthals The Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were a separate species, or possibly a race, of ‘archaic’ humans who occupied Europe and the adjacent parts of western Asia from around 300 000 to 30 000 years ago. They probably descended directly from the earlier Homo erectus populations of the same areas. Discoveries of buried skeletal remains (mostly in caves) show that they were heavily built, muscular individuals, with heavy-browed faces, large noses and jaws, and receding chins. They seem to have been adapted partly to survive in the cold conditions of the last two European glacial periods, and partly to a strenuous lifestyle with a much more limited technological repertoire than that of Homo sapiens. Their brains were of similar size to ours (about 1400 ml on average), but could well have been differently organized. They were clearly proficient at the manufacture of quite complex stone tools (mostly from flint, quartzite, and similar rocks) and the production of certain wooden tools, such as spears. But, unlike their Homo sapiens successors, they produced virtually no recognizable tools in bone or antler. Most striking of all is the virtual absence of any evidence for artistic representation, or the use of ‘ornamental’ items, among the Neanderthals. All of this has been interpreted to mean that the Neanderthals had a very limited capacity for ‘symbolic’ or abstract thought, and either no formal language or a significantly simpler form of language than that of modern humans. The disappearance of the Neanderthals around 30 000 years ago was probably due mainly to competition with the rapidly expanding populations of anatomically and behaviourally ‘modern’ humans (Homo sapiens), which seem, from recent studies of DNA patterns, to have originated and dispersed from Africa shortly before this time. A sample of mitochondrial DNA recovered from bones of an original Neanderthal skeleton (found near Dusseldorf in Germany) is so different from that of modern Europeans that it suggests that there was very little if any interbreeding between the ‘native’ Neanderthal populations of Europe and the new, intrusive Homo sapiens. However, a few skeletons have been found that have been claimed to show a mixture of Neanderthal and modern features — as in the case of a recently-discovered skeleton from Lagar Velho in Portugal. Periods of overlap between the Neanderthals and modern humans of up to 5 000 years have been documented in some areas of Europe, during which the final Neanderthals apparently adopted or copied some features of more ‘modern’ behaviour.

Paul Mellars


Mellars, P. (1996). The Neanderthal legacy: an archaeological perspective from Western Europe. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

See also evolution, human.
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Neanderthal man (nēăn´dərthôl´, –tôl´) or Neandertal man (–tôl´), a species of Homo, the genus to which contemporary humans belong, known as H. neandertalensis after Neanderthal (now Neandertal), Germany, the valley where the first specimen was found.

Anatomically Neanderthals were somewhat shorter but much more robust than contemporary H. sapiens. Distinctive cranial features of Neanderthals included prominent brow ridges, low, sloping foreheads, a chinless and heavy, forward-jutting jaw, and extremely large front teeth. The shoulders and pelvis were wider, the rib cage more conical in shape, and the forearms and lower legs shorter. When placed in an evolutionary perspective, Neanderthal anatomy gives the impression of a large and somewhat "primitive" hominid, as though the evolutionary trajectory of Homo sapiens had somehow reversed itself. This impression is offset somewhat by the observation that the Neanderthal braincase measured on average about 1600 cc, larger than contemporary H. sapiens.

The unique anatomy of Neanderthals probably reflects the fact that they were the first hominid to spend extensive periods of time in extremely cold environments, having evolved in Europe at the onset of the most recent glaciation of that continent (see Pleistocene epoch). For example, their thick, squat build was adapted to maintaining body temperature under harsh climatic conditions. Large front teeth may have reflected a practice common among Eskimo populations of softening animal skins by chewing. Forceful chewing is also suggested by the heavy jaw and brow ridge, both of which serve to buttress powerful muscles.

Neanderthal phylogeny remains somewhat enigmatic, despite the relative abundance of fossil remains. Among African and Asian fossil remains, the reduction in skull and brow ridge thickness and the expansion of the forehead proceeded gradually, with anatomically modern H. sapiens present by 150,000 years ago in S and E Africa. In contrast, by 125,000 years ago, the classic Neanderthal form arose in Europe; it probably persisted in Europe until about 40,000 years ago.

Culturally, Neanderthals are closely associated with a stone-tool tradition known as the Mousterian of the middle Paleolithic. They were proficient hunters. As in most cold environments, plant foods were probably relatively scarce and consumed only seasonally. Evidence of aesthetic behaviors and of religious beliefs among Neanderthals remains relatively scant and controversial, leading many experts to question the extent of their linguistic capabilities, but surviving anatomical evidence suggests that they could have been physically capable of speech.

Controversy also persists regarding the fate of Neanderthals, with opinion divided between those who argue that they became extinct and were replaced by modern H. sapiens and those who argue that their anatomical distinctions were diluted through gene flow (see genetics) with other H. sapiens. Tests conducted on surviving Neanderthal DNA have conflicted on the issue, but a number of studies have suggested that in modern Eurasian (but not African) humans typically as much as 4% of the genome is of Neanderthal origin. Recent research suggests that rapidly changing climatic conditions and volcanic eruptions may have contributed to the Neanderthals' demise.

See E. Trinkaus and P. Shipman, The Neanderthals (1993); J. Shreeve, The Neandertal Enigma (1995); I. Tattersall, The Last Neanderthal (1999); S. Paabo, Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes (2014).

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Ne·an·der·thal / nēˈandər[unvoicedth]ôl/ • n. (also Neanderthal man) an extinct species of human (Homo neanderthalensis) that was widely distributed in ice-age Europe between c.120,000 and 35,000 years ago, with a receding forehead and prominent brow ridges. ∎ fig. an uncivilized, unintelligent, or uncouth person, esp. a man. • adj. of or relating to this extinct human species. ∎ fig. (esp. of a man) uncivilized, unintelligent, or uncouth.

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Neanderthal Middle Palaeolithic variety of human, known from fossils in Europe and Asia. Neanderthals were discovered when a skeleton was unearthed in the Neander Valley in w Germany in 1856. The bones were thick and powerfully built and the skull had a pronounced brow ridge. Neanderthals are now considered to be a separate species of human, possibly a local adaptation during the Ice Ages, and are not thought to be ancestral to modern humans. Neanderthals predated modern humans in Europe, but were superseded by them c.35,000 years ago. See also human evolution

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Neanderthal man A form of fossil human that lived in Europe and western Asia between about 200 000 and 30 000 years ago, when the climate was much colder than today. Neanderthals were thought to be a subspecies of Homo sapiens but are now generally regarded as a distinct species, H. neanderthalensis. The fossil remains indicate that Neanderthals were fairly short, strongly built, and had low brows but that the brain size was the same as, or larger than, modern humans'. They were nomadic cave dwellers who buried their dead. Neanderthals became extinct abruptly; they may have been exterminated by incoming modern humans, with their more advanced stone tool technology. The name is derived from the site in the Neander valley, Germany, where fossils were found in 1856.

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neanderthalAmal, Arles, banal, Barisal, Basle, Bhopal, Carl, chorale, corral, dhal, entente cordiale, Escorial, farl, femme fatale, Funchal, gayal, gnarl, halal, Karl, kraal, locale, marl, morale, musicale, Pascal, pastorale, procès-verbal, Provençal, rationale, real, rial, riyal, snarl, Taal, Taj Mahal, timbale, toile, Vaal, Vidal, Waal •Stendhal • Heyerdahl • housecarl •cantal • hartal • Wiesenthal •Lilienthal • neanderthal • Emmental •Hofmannsthal • Wuppertal •Transvaal • Roncesvalles • Kursaal

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Neanderthal an extinct human that was widely distributed in ice age Europe between c.120,000–35,000 years ago, with a receding forehead and prominent brow ridges. The Neanderthals were associated with the Mousterian flint industry of the Middle Palaeolithic.

In figurative use, the name may be applied to someone considered uncivilized, unintelligent, or uncouth.

The name comes (in the mid 19th century) from Neanderthal, the name of a region in Germany, where remains of Neanderthal man were found.

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Neanderthal, Germany: see Neandertal.