Neanderthal

Our closest extinct relative, disappeared 40,000 years ago

Neanderthals were distinguished by their robust physique, which was well-suited to surviving the harsh, cold climates they often inhabited. They had a larger cranial capacity than modern humans, suggesting they might have possessed significant intelligence and cognitive skills. This larger brain size has led some researchers to speculate about the complexity of Neanderthal thought processes, language, and social structures.

Their adeptness at crafting tools is another testament to their intelligence. Neanderthals created and utilized a wide variety of tools made from stone, bones, and possibly wood, which were essential for hunting, butchering animals, and performing other tasks necessary for survival. These tools were not merely functional but also exhibited a level of craftsmanship and innovation that revealed their creators’ intricate understanding of materials and their environment.

Culturally, Neanderthals were far from the barbaric and primitive figures once portrayed in popular media. They engaged in what can be considered early forms of artistic expression, including potentially symbolic markings on cave walls and using pigments like ochre. Moreover, the practice of burying their dead with apparent care and possibly rituals suggests a belief system or at least a recognition of the significance of death and the deceased among their communities.

Despite their many strengths and adaptations, Neanderthals ceased to exist around 40,000 years ago. The reasons behind their extinction are complex and multifaceted, with several hypotheses put forward by the scientific community. One prevalent theory is climate change; as the Earth underwent significant climatic shifts, the environments that Neanderthals had adapted to so well changed dramatically, potentially beyond their capacity to adjust.

Competition with anatomically modern humans, who arrived in Eurasia around the same time, is another factor considered critical to the Neanderthals’ decline. These modern humans might have competed with Neanderthals for resources, or they might have brought with them diseases to which Neanderthals had no immunity.

Each of these factors—climate change, competition, interbreeding, and disease—might have contributed to the gradual decline of the Neanderthal population. This decline was likely a complex process influenced by an interplay of environmental, biological, and possibly social factors, culminating in their eventual extinction.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Africa
Official estimate
EX
2022
Extinct 40,000 years ago
Asia
Official estimate
EX
2022
Extinct 40,000 years ago
Europe
Official estimate
EX
2022
Extinct 40,000 years ago

Did you know?

  • Neanderthals had unique physical adaptations to their environment, such as a stocky build, wide nose, and prominent brow ridge. These features were not present in any other human species.
  • Recent research suggests that Neanderthals had complex social structures and may have cared for the sick and elderly members of their community.
  • Neanderthals were skilled hunters who used spears and javelins to take down large prey like mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.
  • DNA studies have shown that modern humans outside of Africa have Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, indicating that the two species interbred.
  • Neanderthals had a larger brain than modern humans and may have had a higher level of intelligence, although this is still a topic of debate among scientists.
  • Neanderthals made intricate tools and even created artwork, such as carvings and engravings on bone and stone. 
  • They are known to have created cave art dating back to over 60,000 years ago. Their sophisticated artwork and use of colors suggest that Neanderthals were capable of complex abstract thought and creative expression.
  • The last known Neanderthal populations died out around 40,000 years ago, possibly due to a combination of factors, including climate change, competition with modern humans, and other environmental pressures.

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Get to know me

Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Group

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No