The Neanderthals are a defunct species of human that was extensively dispersed in ice-age Europe between c.120,000 and 35,000 years back, they are distinguished by an exceptional combination of distinctive anatomical features, and are found with stone tools of the Mousterian stone tool industry. The Neanderthals were associated with the Mousterian flint industry of the Middle Palaeolithic era.
Neanderthal residues were previously uncovered in the early nineteenth century, but their importance was not acknowledged up until the discovery of the skeleton from the Neander valley in 1856, approximately concurring with the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859.
Homo neanderthalensis‘s close affinity to modern humans and European stronghold meant that it was the first fossil hominid to attract attention (discovered in Germany’s Neander valley in 1857). The Neanderthals seem to have settled after the first wave of hominid migration from Africa and to have persisted until about 40,000 years ago. Homo sapiens, meanwhile, may have arrived from Africa 60,000 years ago, so could have played a major role in Neanderthal extinction.
DNA substantiation for interbreeding is as yet inconclusive. Scientists originally surmised that Neanderthals were unintelligent, hunchbacked beings, largely because one of the first skeletons found was of an arthritic man. More recent finds have shown that they were physically powerful, and evidence is increasing of abstract reasoning and large cerebral capacity. Physically capable of limited speech, they had sophisticated flint tools and religious rites—many burial sites have been found.
Neanderthals are differentiated by a multitude of distinctive cranial, mandibular, dental, and postcranial anatomical features, many of which are unique to them. Neanderthals also show several “primitive” features, i.e., characteristics shared with the shared ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans.
Numerous scenarios for the Neanderthal extinction have been propositioned, and frequently they summon some direct or indirect contest with early modern humans. Some paleoanthropologists contemplate worsening climatic and environmental conditions to have been major driving forces in the Neanderthal extinction.