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Neanderthals 101 | National Geographic

– [Narrator] Neanderthals
are often depicted as brutish cave men, but science shows that our early ancestors
were actually quite advanced. Neanderthals, or homo neanderthalensis, are our closest relatives
in the human family tree. The species lived from about
400,000 to 40,000 years ago and inhabited an area
that stretched as far was as Europe’s Atlantic coast and
as far east as central Asia. Their habitat reached northward
to modern day Belgium, making them the first
humans to survive a cold, glacial ecosystem. The north’s cold environment
may have influenced neanderthals’ physique. Their bodies were relatively short, with males averaging
five feet, five inches and females five feet, one inch tall, and they were stocky with broad chests, bulky torsos, and muscular limbs. These adaptations helped neanderthals generate and retain body heat. Also, their noses were large and had relatively high bridges. This created a nasal chamber that warmed and humidfied the cold, dry air they’d breathe in northern regions. Apart from adaptations
that helped neanderthals survive a harsh, wintry habitat, the species also developed large brains. They were similar in size
to modern humans’ brains and were often larger. An increase in brain size may have played a significant role in another
type of adaptation, culture. Culture is indicative of
an intelligent species, and archeological evidence suggests that neanderthals had a
relatively sophisticated culture. They built shelters,
made and wore clothing, and created advanced tools. In fact, they were the first human species to make tools out of bone, not just stone. They also created objects that
served ornamental purposes. Neanderthals are suspected
to be the first humans to carry out the symbolic
gesture of burying their dead and adorning grave sites with flowers. Neanderthals may have also created what may be the world’s oldest cave art, which was found in Spain. Despite advances in their culture, sometime after 40,000 years ago, neanderthals mysteriously disappeared. Some scientists believe the
neanderthals were killed or out competed by modern
humans, or homo sapiens, who arrived in Europe
at around the same time as the neanderthals’ extinction. However, another theory suggests that neanderthals mated with modern humans and were absorbed into the
humans’ much larger population. That may explain why
most people of European or Asian descent have 1%
to 2% neanderthal genes in their DNA. For more than 150 years, neanderthals have perplexed anthropologists. The first neanderthal fossil specimen was discovered in Belgium in 1829 by Philippe-Charles Schmerling. However, it wasn’t officially classified as neanderthal until decades later. The first fossil to be
recognized as neandertahl and as an early human or genus homo fossil was found in 1856 by quarrymen in Germany. The new species was named neanderthalensis after the area where the fossils
were found, Neander Valley. Neanderthals’ fossils tell
us how evolution built them to be sturdy, to survive
their harsh environment, but their tools, art, and DNA tell us that their resilience
also involved innovation, creativity, and social behavior, much like homo sapiens today.
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