Sunday, June 4, 2023

Our Ancestors – The Homo Neanderthals

Written By Shravya NB (Grade 10)

Neanderthals or the humans from Neander valley, also known as the Homo Neanderthals, are the extinct species of archaic humans who lived in Eurasia until about 40,000 years ago. Fossil and genetic evidence suggest that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens have a common ancestor between 700,000 and 300,000 years ago. Modern humans and Neanderthals belong to the same homo genus. 

The Neanderthals’ skulls have the large middle part of the face, a huge nose, which might have been used for humidifying and warming the cold air, they had shorter bodies than ours and were well adapted to living in a cold environment. They had strong muscular bodies and wide hips and shoulders. They had an average height of about 1.50-1.75m tall and weighed about 64-82 kg.  The Neanderthal braincase is about 1,600 cm3. Their skulls are elongated and have a smaller cerebellum, areas implicated in tool use, numeracy, creativity, higher-order conceptualization, muscle memory and social abilities.

Neanderthals were no ape-men, in fact, they were very intelligent and accomplished humans. Excavated objects, like the spears and flint hand axes, evidence that the Neanderthals were proficient tool-makers. Stone tools like the blades and scrapers were made from stone flakes. With time, they created tools of greater complexity with the use of bones and antlers. According to some reports, the Neanderthals used a type of glue to attach stone tips to wooden shafts in order to create formidable hunting spears. A technique of an innovative stone technology known as the Levallois technique was developed by these species, through which the stone cores were made and could be finessed into finished tools whenever required. This indicates that they could travel away from sources of raw material, at the same time make the tools as per their requirement.

Injuries found in animals like the mammoths, bison and reindeer depict the proficient hunting skills and the ability to communicate among themselves. Some theories state that they built ships and sailed across the Mediterranean. To live in their challenging environments, the Neanderthals developed the ability to make fire and protect themselves. All these factors indicate the resourcefulness of the species.

Neanderthals lived in nuclear families. And discoveries of their skeletons suggests that they took care of their sick and those who couldn’t care for themselves. They generally lived for about thirty years, though some lived longer. It is also accepted that the Neanderthals buried their dead ones.

There have been a number of factors that have been proposed as the cause for the Neanderthals’ extinction like random fluctuations, great climatic change or disease. Another hypothesis is that Neanderthals didn’t go extinct but simply interbred with humans until they were absorbed into our species. However, the Neanderthals are believed to be ingenious and inventive to have lived life in a practical way.

Featured Image Courtesy – Natural History Museum