Key Facts about Neanderthals

May 24, 2024

Neanderthals who lived 50,000 years ago were infected with three viruses that still affect modern humans today, researchers have discovered recently.

About Neanderthals:

  • They were an extinct relative of modern humans once found across Europe, extending into Central and Southwest Asia.
  • Species: Homo neanderthalensis
  • They are our closest extinct human relative.
    • Current evidence from both fossils and DNA suggests that Neanderthal and modern human lineages separated at least 500,000 years ago.
  • The last populations of Neanderthals are thought to have died out roughly 40,000 years ago, several thousand years or so after a wave of modern humans migrated deeper into Europe.
  • Although they are long extinct, their genes are still present in modern human DNA
  • Features:
    • Some defining features of their skulls include the large middle part of the faceangled cheek bones, and a huge nose for humidifying and warming cold, dry air. 
    • Their bodies were shorter and stockier than modern humans, another adaptation to living in cold environments.
    • But their brains were just as large as modern humans and often larger-proportional to their brawnier bodies.
    • Their bones reveal that they were extremely muscular and strong, but led hard lives, suffering frequent injuries.
    • Unlike modern humans, Neanderthals didn't have much of a chin.
    • Neanderthals made and used a diverse set of sophisticated toolscontrolled fire, lived in shelters, made and wore clothing, were skilled hunters of large animals, 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.