Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Neanderthals

Posted by Fredsvenn on April 15, 2014

Neanderthal family in a cave (reconstruction)

Infographic (BBC)

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The Neanderthals

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The Neanderthals or Neandertals are an extinct species or subspecies of the genus Homo which is closely related to modern humans. They are known from fossils, dating from the Pleistocene period, which have been found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia. The species is named after Neandertal (“Neander’s Valley”), the location in Germany where it was first discovered.

Neanderthals are classified either as a subspecies of Homo sapiens (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) or as a separate species of the same genus (Homo neanderthalensis).The first humans with proto-Neanderthal traits are believed to have existed in Europe as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago.

When the Neanderthals went extinct is disputed. Fossils found in the Vindija Cave in Croatia have been dated to between 33,000 and 32,000 years old, and Neanderthal artefacts from Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar are believed to be less than 30,000 years ago, but a recent study has re-dated fossils at two Spanish sites as 45,000 years old, 10,000 years older than previously thought, and may cast doubt on recent dates at other sites.

Cro-Magnon (early-modern-human) skeletal remains showing certain “Neanderthal traits” have been found in Lagar Velho (Portugal) and dated to 24,500 years ago, suggesting that there may have been an extensive admixture of the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal populations in that region.

A review of supposed archaeological hearths in Europe have suggested humans expanded into cold northern climates without the warmth of fire.

The second major finding of the study was that Neanderthal predecessors pushed into Europe”s colder northern latitudes more than 800,000 years ago without the habitual control of fire, said Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Archaeologists have long believed the control of fire was necessary for migrating early humans as a way to reduce their energy loss during winters when temperatures plunged below freezing and resources became more scarce.

“This confirms a suspicion we had that went against the opinions of most scientists, who believed it was impossible for humans to penetrate into cold, temperate regions without fire,” said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

Recent evidence from an 800,000-year-old site in England known as Happisburgh indicates hominids – likely Homo heidelbergenis, the forerunner of Neanderthals – adapted to chilly environments in the region without fire, Roebroeks said.

The simplest explanation is that there was no habitual use of fire by early humans prior to roughly 400,000 years ago, indicating that fire was not an essential component of the behavior of the first occupants of Europe”s northern latitudes, said Roebroeks.

“It is difficult to imagine these people occupying very cold climates without fire, yet this seems to be the case,” added Roebroeks. The findings have been published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

A Neanderthal burial site in Italy reveals hundreds of bird bones mixed in with those of our hominid cousins. The bones had the feathers scraped off, as though the Neanderthals had removed them on purpose – and the only plausible reason they would do that is to wear the feathers. It’s more evidence that Neanderthals were just as cultured as own ancient ancestors.

Obviously, there are some pretty big jumps from “hundreds of bird bones” to “sophisticated ancient culture”, so let’s examine this a bit more closely. Marco Peresani of Italy’s University of Ferrara discovered 660 bird bones among the Neanderthal bones in northern Italy’s Fumane Cave. A significant number of the wing bones had been cut and scraped where the feathers would have once been, which indicates they were intentionally removed.

So what were the Neanderthals using them for? There are three reasonable options: food, weaponry, or culture. Yes, the feathers could have been removed as preparations for eating the rest of the bird, but Peresani says that most of the birds found were poor food sources, and it’s unlikely the Neanderthals would have subsisted on them. Such feathers could also have been removed to be part of arrows, but that technology is not thought to have been invented yet.

That leaves a cultural or ceremonial purpose. The feathers could have formed a part of local Neanderthal fashion, perhaps worn as some form of ornamental dress. The feathers would have been impractical for everyone to be constantly wearing such clothing, which in turn suggests they wore them for special reasons and perhaps only on particular occasions.

This lends credence to the belief that Neanderthals were not the savage, intellectual inferiors of our own Homo sapiens ancestors, but rather a species with their own sophisticated culture. It can hardly be considered definitive – and some critics have quite openly said that Peresani has pushed his data beyond the breaking point – but it’s still some of the best evidence yet for the surprising sophistication of our Neanderthal cousins.

The long travel of Home Sapiens

Svante Paabo talk at NIH

A Species Odyssey

Clan of the Cave Bear

Those Enigmatic Neanderthals

Did climate kill off the Neanderthals?

Freeze ‘condemned Neanderthals’

Neanderthal climate link debated

Neanderthals’ ‘last rock refuge’

‘Neanderthal tools’ found at dig

‘Complexity’ of Neanderthal tools

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Neanderthals may have been first human species to create cave paintings

Neanderthals ‘distinct from us’

DNA clues to our inner Neanderthal

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The downside of sex with Neanderthals

Neanderthals live on in DNA of humans

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