At this current time it is estimated that the first members of the human family (hominins) lived in Africa about six or seven million years ago. Although almost completely ape-like, its believed this is when human evolution began, and these ape-like species began adapting for reasons still unknown yet, but adapting/evolving into the people that we are today.
It has taken many years and a lot of work to get to this stage of understanding that we are at now and we still have a long way to go. We have some pieces of this puzzle, and more yet to find. The mystery of evolution, could remain a mystery for many more years to come but will always fascinate us. Here is one piece of that puzzle, the Neanderthals.
Neanderthals (Homo Neanderthalensis)
This is a Neanderthal, believed to have walked the earth from over 200,000 years ago until around 30,000 years ago. Native to Europe and Asia the Neanderthal evolved from earlier species. Homo sapiens were evolving in Africa at this time.
Fossil and genetic data indicates the Neanderthals shared a common ancestor with our species around 400,000 years ago, this species believed to be the Homo heidelbergensis. Further investigations revealed that the Neanderthals’ relationship to some modern humans was even closer than previously thought. The results showed that people in Europe, Asia and New Guinea have around 2.5% Neanderthal DNA in their genetic code. From this is it believed Neanderthals interbred with modern humans not long after they spread out of Africa.
All physical evidence of the Neanderthals were thought to have dissapeared around 30,000 years ago, modern humans reached Europe 15,000 years prior. It has been suggested that the super brains, language and skills allowed the modern humans to out-live the Neanderthals.
The first Neanderthal fossil was found in 1856 in Neander Valley, Germany, which is how this species got it’s name. Hundreds of fossils have been found since, allowing great insight into how the Neanderthal probably looked and behaved.
The picture above shows a typical Neanderthal man, he has a large nose and strong double arched brow which distinguishes him from a modern human.
Neanderthals were thought to have had large brains and short, stocky physiques, suited to living in colder environments. Their large nose thought to be adapted to the warming and humidifying the air.
Neanderthals were considered to be skilled hunters, made and used flint and stone tools, built shelters and controlled fire. They were seen as mostly carnivorous, a small amount of evidence supports they ate other food also.
In Mediterranean regions the Neanderthals where suggested to have exploited marine resources such as shellfish and seals. But this part of their diet was very much limited compared to the amount of seafood we eat today.
Neanderthals are believed to have acted a lot like us in some ways. They were thought to have made clothes and possibly even simple jewellery, archaeological evidence also suggests they buried their dead.
It is suggested that the Neanderthals decline was a result of Ice Age climate fluctuations that affected European flora and fauna, causeing the dissapearance of familiar animals and plants. The modern humans were more able to adapt than the Neanderthals.
From left to right:
Homo Erectus (Early and late)
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