Neanderthals have always been depicted as degenerates who were a less formed and less intelligent race than the modern human. However, there are surprising reasons why this impression has been given and Neanderthals may have been closer to the modern human than you would think.
Evidence of Neanderthals was first discovered by miners in the Neander Valley in Germany in 1856. When they discovered fossils, they initially thought they were from a cave bear. However, a local historian disagreed and suggested that they were the remains of a Cossack who had suffered from rickets.
Three years later, ‘On the Origin of the Species’ was published by Charles Darwin and this outlined his theories of evolution. This led William King, an anatomist, to take a closer look at the bones discovered and it was he that described them as belonging to a Homo Neanderthal and gave the impression that this was the link that had been missing between the evolution of apes to humans.
Up until the 1970s, some creationists were still arguing that the fossils of the Neanderthals were simply the remains of a modern human who happened to suffer from arthritis or acromegaly. It turned out that the first Neanderthal skeleton found and rebuilt did belong to someone who was arthritic, this skeleton was reconstructed by paleontologist Marcellin Boule and it was this reconstruction that has led to the degenerative image of Neanderthals.
Since then, science has moved on significantly and technology has allowed scientists to learn so much more about the Neanderthals. They have been described as the ultimate craftsmen as they used their creative skills to create their own hunting equipment, such as spears.
The fact that they could use these spears to hunt large animals, such as the woolly rhinoceros and bison, suggests that the Neanderthals were far from degenerate and were actually a strong and fit race.
Other signs that they were more intelligent and evolved than they are given credit for is the fact that they nursed each other to health after injuries, which shows empathy, and that they had created their own medicines.
Furthermore, they were able to hunt for food and cook meals that provided them with a balanced diet and there is some evidence that they used a yellow pigment as a form of foundation for their skin. However, talking wasn’t their greatest skill as their vocal tracts would not allow for them to make certain sounds. Instead, they used paintings as their primary means of communication.
Although the Neanderthals died out over 25,000 years ago, scientists have been able to find out a lot about their DNA and this shows that regardless of whether you are Asian or Caucasian, everyone is still an ancestor of the Neanderthals.
Paleontologist Svante Pääbo has been reading the Neanderthal’s genes since 2010 when he first sequenced the DNA from the skeletons of three Neanderthals that were discovered in Croatia. It is now even possible to discover just how much of the Neanderthal DNA somebody carries when tracing their ancestry.