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A reconstruction of Homo neanderthalensis

Hermann Schaaffhausen

Neanderthals, or Homo neanderthalensis, is the closest known relative to the Homo sapiens species. While Homo sapiens mostly populated Africa, the Neanderthals were known to live in Europe and Asia. The species is now extinct, although some DNA from individuals with Western European ancestry have shown hallmarks of possibly coming from the Neanderthal branch of the tree of life.

The Neanderthals resembled current day humans, but had a very broad nose and were smaller in stature, but thicker in musculature. These were adaptations from living in the colder climates. Many entertainment depictions of "cavemen" are based on the features of Neanderthals.

Their brains were often larger than those of Homo sapiens and they were able to make and use tools, control fire, create decorative pieces, and even wore clothes. They were skilled hunters and gatherers and lived in "families". The families could build shelters and create a home-like atmosphere.

The first Neanderthal skull was discovered in the Neander Valley of Germany in the 1800s. Earlier discoveries were later classified as Neanderthals. Many fossils have been recovered of Neanderthals, most likely because they buried their dead. They even left markers at grave sites, much like modern day funerals.

Modern day Humans and Neanderthals share a common ancestor as recently as 200,000 years ago. Most likely, there was a period of shared time on the Asian continent where they became distinct species. Homo sapiens may have actually contributed to the extinction of Homo neanderthalensis by migrating into Europe around 30,000 years ago.

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