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Reconstruction of a Neanderthal skeleton [1] (American Museum of Natural History)

Reconstruction of a Neanderthal skeleton
( American Museum of Natural History )

Temporal occurrence
230,000 (130,000) to 30,000 years
Human (Hominoidea)
Apes (Hominidae)
Scientific name
Homo neanderthalensis
King , 1864

The Neanderthal (formerly also "Neanderthaler", scientifically Homo neanderthalensis ) is an extinct relative of anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ). It developed in Europe - parallel to Homo sapiens in Africa - from a common African ancestor of the genus Homo and at times colonized large parts of southern , central and eastern Europe . Obviously in the course of the last Ice Age the Neanderthals expanded their originally exclusively European settlement area to western Asia ( Turkey , Levant , northern Iraq ), to parts of Central Asia ( Uzbekistan , Tajikistan ) and even to the Altai region . The DNA sequencing of the Neanderthal genome showed evidence of multiple gene flows between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens . The Neanderthals made tools out of stone and wood and - depending on the climatic conditions - ate partly on hunted prey and partly on plants. They also ruled fire.

Neanderthals found since the Eem warm period (about 130,000 years ago) are known as "classic Neanderthals" because of their often pronounced anatomical features. Due to at least isolated burials of their dead in Europe as well as in Western Asia and the depositing of the dead in caves, Homo neanderthalensis is next to Homo sapiens the most fossilized species of hominini . There are currently different theories as to why the Neanderthals became extinct around 40,000 years ago.


The indirect namesake: Joachim Neander (1650–1680)
Reconstruction of a Neanderthal man (Neanderthal Museum)

The name Neanderthal goes back to the Neandertal , a valley section of the Düssel located between the cities of Erkrath and Mettmann . There, in what is now the state of North Rhine-Westphalia , a part of the skeleton of a Neanderthal man was found in 1856 , later named Neandertal 1 . The scientific name Homo neanderthalensis is derived from the Latin hŏmō [ ˈhɔmoː ] "man", the epithet neanderthalensis refers - like the more popular name Neanderthal - to the place of discovery. Homo neanderthalensis therefore means “man from the Neanderthal”. The name goes back indirectly to Joachim Neander , after whom the "Neandertal" was named. The holotype of Homo neanderthalensis is the find Neanderthal 1 .

The name of the fossil - and thus also the taxon - as Homo neanderthalensis was made in 1864 by the Irish geologist William King . As early as 1863 King introduced the name "Homo Neanderthalensis King" in a lecture to the Geological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Sciences after discussing the shape of the skull and its deviations from the skull shape of modern humans . In the German-speaking world, however, Rudolf Virchow retained the upper hand with his misinterpretation of 1872 until his death in 1902. Virchow - the most important German pathologist at the time  - considered the find to be a pathologically deformed skull of a modern person and rejected the thesis of " primitive man ".

The different spellings (epithet with 'th', Neanderthals only with 't') are due to the fact that in the middle of the 19th century the "Neanderthal" was still written with 'th' and this spelling was adopted in the epithet at that time. According to the International Rules for Biological Nomenclature , species names recognized as valid are not subsequently changed. The Orthographic Conference of 1901 , however, stipulated in its specifications for the future common German orthography of all German-speaking countries that the 'h' after 't', which had been common up until then, would be dispensed with in domestic words (valley instead of Thal, door instead of door). That is why the popular spelling ("Neanderthals") that had been common up until then was changed to Neanderthals .

At times the Neanderthal was not regarded as a separate species , but as a subspecies of Homo sapiens and therefore referred to as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis , and anatomically modern humans as Homo sapiens sapiens . This naming assumes, however, that according to the biological nomenclature the last common ancestor would be called (archaic) Homo sapiens ; In fact, according to the widespread view, supported by new genetic analyzes (see 2016/17: Detection of gene flow to Neanderthals ), Homo erectus , documented in Africa, is the last common ancestor. In addition, the rules of nomenclature would mean that - as recommended by Günter Bräuer , for example - u. a. the European ancestors of the Neanderthals classified as Homo heidelbergensis would also have to be renamed Homo sapiens .


Neandertal 1 , side view; lying in front is the piece of the temporal and
zygomatic bone discovered in 2000


In mid-August 1856, Italian quarry workers discovered some bone fragments in a section of the Neandertal that fell victim to limestone mining shortly afterwards . At first they were carelessly thrown into the overburden, but caught the eye of the quarry owners Wilhelm Beckershoff and Friedrich Wilhelm Pieper, who had 16 larger pieces of bone recovered and handed them over to Johann Carl Fuhlrott for examination. The Bonn anatomist Hermann Schaaffhausen examined the bones through press reports and came to the same conclusion as Fuhlrott before: It was a prehistoric form of modern man. Fuhlrott and Schaaffhausen presented the find in June 1857 at the general assembly of the Natural History Association of the Prussian Rhineland . However, your interpretation was not shared by the professional audience. This find, named Neandertal 1, is the type specimen of the species Homo neanderthalensis .

In the vicinity of the site, the Neanderthal Museum traces the history of the development of anatomically modern humans and their relationship to the Neanderthal.

During subsequent excavations at the original site in 1997 and 2000, another 60 bone fragments and teeth were discovered, which could be ascribed to the fossil Neanderthal 1 and two other Neanderthals.

In 2006, a total of 400 Neanderthal fossil finds from Europe were known.

More locations

Fossil finds of Homo heidelbergensis or early Neanderthals
Fossil finds of "classic" Neanderthals

The find from the Neanderthal Valley was not the first fossil of Homo neanderthalensis to be discovered . As early as 1833, the Dutch doctor and naturalist Philippe-Charles Schmerling had described a fossil child's skull and several other bones from a cave near Engis in Belgium, which he assigned to the “Diluvium” (the flood epoch ) based on animal fossils and stone tools that were also discovered ; however, this first scientifically described Neanderthal find ( Engis 2 ), discovered in 1829, was misunderstood as "modern" by specialist colleagues.

The relatively well-preserved skull Gibraltar 1 , discovered in 1848 in the Forbes' Quarry limestone quarry in Gibraltar , was only recognized decades later as being decades old and added to the now established species Homo neanderthalensis . The recognition of the Neanderthal man as an independent human form that deviated from Homo sapiens only finally prevailed after two almost completely preserved Neanderthal skeletons were found in a cave in Spy, Belgium (now a district of Jemeppe-sur-Sambre ) in 1886 .

By 1999, skeletons and skeletal fragments of more than 300 individuals of the Neanderthal were known. There are many sites in the karst areas of southern France, for example La Chapelle-aux-Saints , Le Moustier , La Ferrassie , Pech de l'Azé , Arcy-sur-Cure and La Quina . Other important sites include the Sima de los Huesos , the Cueva de los Aviones , the Cueva Antón and the Cueva de El Sidrón in Spain, the Tabun Cave and the Kebara Cave in the Carmel Mountains in Israel, the Shanidar Cave in Iraq, the Vindija Cave in Croatia, the Karain Cave in Turkey, the Mesmaiskaya Cave in the Russian part of the Caucasus and the Okladnikow Cave in the Altai Mountains.

Overall, the majority of fossil finds from Neanderthals come - in that order - from France, Italy and Spain, Germany, Belgium and Portugal; their core area was accordingly south and south-west Europe. From the distribution of the fossil remains known to date, it was deduced that the Neanderthals only expanded "their originally exclusively European settlement area into the Middle East, parts of Central Asia and even into the Altai region" during the last Ice Age.

In 2017 it was reported in Science that traces of their mitochondrial DNA could be detected in the sediment of various established or suspected whereabouts of Neanderthals . Stone tools had previously been discovered by Neanderthals in the Belgian Trou al'Wesse cave near Modave , but no Neanderthal bones.

Fossil record and age of the finds

The oldest finds in the fossil record , which the majority of researchers classed safely as Neanderthals due to a sufficient number of anatomical peculiarities and mostly referred to as "classic" Neanderthals, come from excavation layers of the oxygen isotope level MIS 5. They come from Croatia ( Krapina ) and Italy and are about 130,000 and 120,000 years old, respectively. The eponymous find from the Neandertal was dated to an age of 42,000 years.

Roughly schematic family tree of the genus Homo , without taking into account the recently detected gene flows.

It is difficult to differentiate between the Neanderthal bones found in the past as pre-Neanderthals ("Ante-Neanderthals", "Pre-Neanderthals", "Proto-Neanderthals") and today mostly known as Homo heidelbergensis , because the Neanderthals are immediate and gradually emerged from the Chronospecies Homo heidelbergensis . Therefore, different dates are shown in the specialist publications. Often the existence of the Neanderthals as a separate taxon is derived from fossils that are between 200,000 and 160,000 years old; Occasionally, however, fossils that are 300,000 years old and even 500,000 years old have been attributed to the Neanderthals.

The date at which the Neanderthals became extinct has also not yet been reliably dated. The widespread view that the Neanderthals were particularly adapted to the cold periods ( stadials ) of the last glacial period , which began around 115,000 years ago , seems to contradict the fact that they apparently died out during an interstadial , interstadial 5. This was long before the glacial maximum of the last glacial period, which began around 25,000 years ago and peaked around 20,000 years ago. The distribution of the bone finds was also interpreted to mean that the Neanderthals only left their core area in southwest and south Europe “under favorable climatic and environmental conditions”, “in order to penetrate into areas in which they are only temporarily, until the local ones deteriorate climatic and environmental conditions. ”According to a study published in 2011, the fossils from the Caucasian Mesmaiskaja Cave (39,700 ± 1,100 cal BP ) mark the most recent Neanderthals with an indubitable dating. The dating of finds from the Iberian Peninsula that are less than 45,000 years old is also considered dubious.

The reliability of the determination of the age of other more recently dated finds is also controversial; this applies in particular to finds from the caves of Arcy-sur-Cure (34,000 years ago = BP ), from the Cueva del Boquete de Zafarraya (32,000 BP) and from the Gorham cave (28,000 BP). These sites are also all significantly more southern and therefore speak more for a cold escape. Dates of Neanderthal fossils younger than 34,000 BP ( 14 C-years) are questioned either for methodological reasons or because of the tradition of an unclear layer context. It is possible that the age of the fossils found in southern Spain was classified as being around 10,000 years too young due to contamination during the sampling; Thomas Higham , a British expert on radiocarbon dating, assumes, based on various age determinations he made, that the Neanderthals were extinct in Europe no later than 39,000 years ago (cal BP). The assignment of Moustérien-like stone tools to the late Neanderthals is also controversial , which was discovered at 65 ° 01 ′ N (almost at the Arctic Circle ) in the northern Urals in the Byzovaya site and dated to an age of 34,000 to 31,000 BP.

In Heinrich Event 4 of the most recent Ice Age (about 40,000 years ago), Homo sapiens penetrated north from Africa via the Middle East and subsequently occupied the previous habitat of the Neanderthals. The culture of Châtelperronien is considered to be evidence of the cultural influence of the Neanderthals by the anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) of the Upper Palaeolithic , the so-called Cro-Magnon humans .


Thanks to more than 300 skeletal finds, the Neanderthal is the best-studied fossil species of the genus Homo . However, Ian Tattersall pointed out that there was only "a superficial definition" of this taxon until the late 1970s; What was missing, however, was a compilation of those characteristics that distinguish Homo neanderthalensis from all other species of the genus Homo . Albert Santa Luca only presented this in 1978 and highlighted four unique features of the Neanderthal skull:

“One was the torus occipitalis (occipital bulge), a bony ridge that runs across the occiput on the back of the head. Over this bulge lies an oval depression ( fossa suprainiaca ), another exclusive Neanderthal feature. The third feature, a pronounced occipito-mastoidal ridge (nowadays often referred to as the juxtamastoid ridge), located in the mastoid process, is located further forward at the base of the skull . The mastoid bone is a bone structure that protrudes behind and under the ear canal (small in Neanderthals compared to anatomically modern humans). Finally, Neanderthals have a clear, rounded elevation on top of the mastoid process, the mastoid tuberosity. This elevation, which runs diagonally backwards and upwards, is developed differently in other forms of human beings or is absent. "

Later, other typical Neanderthal features were found, for example special structures of the nasal cavity and the position of the semicircular canals of the inner ear . Analyzes of two well-preserved skeletons of Neanderthals newborns showed that the robust bones of Neanderthals - in comparison with anatomically modern humans - were already in place before birth.

Footprints of the Neanderthals are especially known from a dune area of Le Rozel in Normandy (France, around 70,000 years old); a group of 10 to 13 mostly very young and adolescent Neanderthals left at least 257 prints there. A single footprint has also been preserved for example from the Vârtop Cave in the Bihor Mountains (Romania at least 62,000, maximum 97,000 years old).

Skull bones

View from above of the elongated canopy of a Neanderthal man from La Ferrassie
Side view of the skull of the Neanderthal man La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1

The brain volume of the Neanderthals was around 1200 to 1750 cubic centimeters (on average around 1400 cm³), which is on average somewhat larger than in modern humans and is interpreted as a result of their overall stronger physique. This range of variation meant that other features of the skull also show a considerable range of variation. At the same time, there are numerous features that differ from those of anatomically modern humans and which, moreover, did not develop after birth, but were created prenatal; this could be proven on the skull of the Neanderthal baby from the Mesmaiskaja cave ( Caucasus ).

The skull is elongated from front to back and, with its low forehead, is also much flatter than that of people today, and its elongated shape means that it protrudes far back and forms a characteristic protrusion there. Due to its two protruding bulges above the eyes, the shape of the skull looks more archaic than that of most people living today. The largest skull width is at the level of the lower skull base (in anatomically modern humans: above the ears). Because of this and the relatively low, wide skull, the outline appears semicircular when viewed from behind (in anatomically modern humans: rounded trapezoidal). The large and wide nostril is also noticeable on the facial skull.

A particularly distinctive feature between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens is the position of the semicircular canals of the inner ear in the petrous bone of the skull base. The semicircular posterior semicircular canal (part of the equilibrium organ for rotational accelerations) is lower in the Neanderthals than in all other species of the genus Homo . The difference between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in this trait is about as great as that between Homo sapiens and chimpanzees.

Side view of the facial skull , temporal bone and parietal bone of the Neanderthal man discovered in the Forbes Quarry limestone
quarry in Gibraltar in 1848

The forehead is flat and receding, while in European Homo sapiens it is mostly steep. The region above the eyes typically shows a distinct bulge above the eye ( torus supraorbitalis ). However, the bulges above the eyes are not very pronounced in all individuals, they also occurred in early Homo sapiens and are therefore not always a reliable criterion for differentiating between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens . This thickening of the bones is interpreted as a stabilizing adaptation, because the skull was exposed to strong static loads due to the powerful chewing apparatus. The trait already appeared in the common ancestors of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans and can also be observed in the great apes.

The nasal opening is large and relatively wide, the bridge of the nose is very strong and also wide. In contrast to modern Europeans , the bottom of the nose ends in a rounded shape in the face. These features suggest a large, fleshy nose, which - like some other internal nasal features - is interpreted by some researchers as an adaptation to the ice age cold spells : a large nose preheats the air we breathe before it reaches the lungs , and thus supports this Maintaining the core body temperature. In addition, the olfactory mucous membrane was arranged further forward in the nose than in Homo sapiens : "The improved absorption of smells could have been an advantage in general when locating food and especially when hunting animals." It was also argued that the larger ones The noses and the more spacious maxillary and frontal sinuses of the Neanderthals were less an adaptation to cold times, but primarily a result of their overall somewhat wider face.


Some skull features of the Neanderthals
Comparison between the skull of an anatomically modern human (left) and that of a Neanderthal man (right)

Based on the wear and tear of the teeth, it was concluded that the Krapina Neanderthals were not older than 30 years; only insignificantly longer life spans were also known for the fossils of Homo heidelbergensis from the Sima de los Huesos in Spain.

The upper and lower jaw bones are higher and also longer than in anatomically modern humans; The incisors of the Neanderthals are also larger, but the molars are narrower than those of Homo sapiens . Due to the stronger and larger jawbones , Neanderthal skulls have a prognathic effect . H. the lower half of the face protrudes clearly. The ascending branches of the lower jaw are wider, and the angle between the branches and body of the lower jaw is steeper. A noticeable differentiator from anatomically modern humans is the lack of a clearly protruding chin in most Neanderthal skulls .

The number of teeth and the shape of the crown match those of Homo sapiens , but the upper incisors are curved in the shape of a shovel. The molars often have a cusp in their center, which does not occur in anatomically modern humans. The posterior molars are sometimes - not always - characterized by taurodontics ; H. the roots separate into branches just before the tips. Special diagnostic features can also be found in the lower fourth premolars , the first molars and the second deciduous molars, which in the meantime has led to extensive comparative studies of late Middle Paleolithic and early Paleolithic tooth finds to differentiate between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. In addition, the so-called retromolar gap ("Neanderthal gap", not to be confused with the diastema ) is typical, which occurs regularly between the last molar (molar) and the lower jaw branch.

One hypothesis assumes that the shape of the skull was not only formed passively by the brain growing in it, but also later came about through the heavy use of the incisors. These were therefore not only used for ingesting food, but also as “tools” and as a kind of “third hand”. The so-called teeth -as-tool hypothesis by FH Smith states that the teeth were used as a vice and pliers . However, this technology is not a unique selling point of the Neanderthals, but has been documented both pathologically and ethnographically in modern humans. Traces of wear on the teeth indicate that the Neanderthals - like Homo heidelbergensis - were predominantly right-handed.

Torso, arms and legs

Many Neanderthal finds come from burials , which is why all areas of their body have been passed down several times and in good condition. The typical European - the so-called classic - Neanderthal skeletons “ look more or less exactly like the skeletons of today's humans. The main differences are in the proportions. Neanderthals have a much wider, more robustly built pelvis, and the leg bones are also stronger than in modern humans. On the other hand, the arms were built comparatively delicately. “From the muscle insertion marks of the hands it was deduced that Neanderthals primarily used precision grips in their manual activities .

The bone finds suggest body heights of around 1.60 m; the Neanderthals were therefore somewhat smaller than the early anatomically modern humans , for whom a height of about 1.77 m was reconstructed. Their body weight , on the other hand, corresponded roughly to that of the Europeans living today: The so-called old man of La Chapelle , a skull with associated lower jaw and numerous other body bones found in 1908 in La Chapelle-aux-Saints ( Département Corrèze ) in France , has a body weight of 60 to Attributed to 80 kg; the female skull Gibraltar 1 , discovered in Gibraltar in 1848 in Forbes' Quarry, is assigned a body weight of 50 to 70 kg. The height of the Neanderthals was approximately 95 percent of the average height of Neanderthals and thus corresponds to the proportions of modern humans. The pelvic canal of Neanderthals was similarly narrow as that of anatomically modern women.

Given that the Neanderthals lived during an Ice Age, such differences have been interpreted as adapting to the cold climate in Europe. Finds from warmer areas (for example the Middle East) indicate larger and leaner individuals. Since there was only a short space between the chest and hip of the Neanderthals, their torsos appeared more compact and stocky than today's Europeans; this is the main reason for the smaller body size on average compared to people living today.

Comparison of three long bones of the Neanderthal man from Spy (each on the left) and modern man

The deviations of certain characteristics of the legs from those of the present are also interpreted as an adaptation of the body structure to a relatively cold climate; Friedemann Schrenk illustrated this using the example of Africans , Lappen and Neanderthals:

“While the length of the lower leg corresponds to 79 percent of the thigh for the 'flaps', this value is 86 percent for the Africans; so these have much longer lower legs. The length of the lower legs of the Neanderthals was only 71 percent of the thigh, so the Neanderthals had significantly shorter legs than today's people from Lapland . "

In addition to these length ratios, which differed from those of Homo sapiens , the bones of the lower extremities of the Neanderthals were also able to withstand much greater loads:

“[ Thighbones and shins ] suggest a doubling of flexural and torsional strength compared to the lower extremity of modern humans. The morphology of the knee area indicates considerable strength and resilience. After all, the foot was extremely tough due to enlarged joints and a reinforced big toe. "

However, it was deduced from the length of his Achilles tendon that the Neanderthals were less good endurance runners and also used more energy than modern humans when running short distances.

From the muscle marks obtained (the attachment points of the muscles on the bones) it could be deduced that the Neanderthals had unusually strong chest and back muscles compared to modern humans, so that the arms " also allowed an extremely strong force grip "; the hand bones also suggest a “precision grip”. From these muscle marks and the weight of the bone finds - the ribs and the pelvic girdle were also more massive than modern humans - it was possible to deduce the body weight, which at 50 to 80 kg is relatively high in relation to body size and compared to modern humans.

The image of the cumbersome primitive who can barely walk upright, which was often presented in the past, has long since become obsolete, because the body dimensions of Neanderthals are - despite all the deviations - still within the range of today's people.

Anatomical findings on development and social behavior

Head and torso of a child

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology used impressions of the brain on the inside of the cranial bones to show that the growth pattern of the Neanderthals' brains in the first year of life - a critical phase for cognitive development - differs significantly from that of anatomically modern humans difference. Accordingly, the slightly different shape of the brain (spherical in modern humans, elongated in Neanderthals) probably had an impact on cognitive abilities. So areas developed in Neanderthals child obviously the parietal lobe and the cerebellum region less than the young Homo sapiens , but similar to chimpanzees. If these regions are injured in modern humans or are reduced in size as a result of developmental disorders, this can lead to restrictions in speech and social behavior.

With the help of synchrotron radiation , it was reconstructed in 2010 the time span within which the teeth of the Neanderthal children developed; In anatomically modern humans, this is a measure of the general speed of development of a child. According to this, the development speed of the young Neanderthals was much faster - and the phase of childhood therefore shorter - than that of humans. However, the development of the brain in early childhood was probably similar to that of anatomically modern humans, and according to a study published in 2017, the enlargement of the bones below the head was similar to that in humans; this was interpreted as an indication of a possibly similarly long childhood as that of humans.

The right humerus and the muscle attachments on the right side of the upper arms of Neanderthals were usually stronger than the left. This is often attributed to the regular use of spears; However, a study published in 2012 suggested that this pronounced asymmetry could primarily be a consequence of the frequent processing of surfaces (smoothing of the floor, of fur).

Numerous skeletons of older Neanderthals show healed bone fractures and evidence of severely receded muscles as a result of injuries that weakened them significantly. This was interpreted to mean that they could only survive the consequences of these injuries because they were supported by clan members.

In the Goyet caves in Gesves ( Belgium ) - as previously in archaeological sites in France and Spain - evidence of cannibalism was found.

Life expectancy

The age at the onset of death can indeed be reconstructed quite precisely for individual bone finds. However, a reliable mean value for the life expectancy of the entire Neanderthal population cannot be calculated from this. Nevertheless, there are indications of life expectancy. According to Friedemann Schrenk , an investigation “of a total of 220 skeletons from the entire distribution area of ​​the Neanderthals from a period of 100,000 and 35,000 years ago [...] showed that 80 percent of all Neanderthals died before the age of 40”; most of them even died between the ages of 20 and 30. However, according to Schrenk, individual people had an “astonishingly high life expectancy”, especially in view of the harsh living conditions: It is certain, for example, that the so-called old man from La Chapelle was around 40 to 45 years old when he died. At the same time, these findings suggest that only a few people saw their grandchildren grow up. (→ grandmother hypothesis )


Reconstruction in the Neanderthal Museum

The teeth of humans and macaques living today have a characteristic that is strictly correlated with the time of weaning : the ratio of barium to calcium in the tooth enamel . An analysis of this relationship in a Neanderthal tooth showed in 2013 that this Neanderthal was weaned at around 14 to 15 months of age. The examination of two Neanderthal teeth from the French site Payre (municipality of Rompon , Département Ardèche ), on the other hand, showed an age of 2½ years at the time of weaning; In 1997 the age at weaning was estimated at three years.

It is certain that the Neanderthals regularly kindled fires in their living quarters; the oldest fireplaces in Europe that are considered secure come from Homo heidelbergensis and are around 400,000 years old. Ash deposits from an abundance of hearths discovered in the Kebara Cave were particularly revealing : “Every phase of settlement left a layer of waste in the cave; In the time between the residential phases, dust blew in and rock material fell from the ceiling. In Kebara, meter-thick sediments have accumulated, in which one could distinguish successive inspection horizons exactly in the central area where the fireplaces were located. ”Similar finds were uncovered in Spain in the Abric Romaní , a rock outcrop (Abri) that - with interruptions - more than Has been inhabited for 20,000 years.

Sites of hunting grounds in France, in the Caucasus and near Wallertheim in the Rhineland, as well as in the Buhlen hunting station, show that “Neanderthals were specialized hunters who stalked bison and mammoths again and again in the same places on their paths in winter grazing areas. In Salzgitter Lebenstedt to bones found along with thousands of stone tools of 86 hunted reindeer "isotopic measurements, a clear testimony to the excellent hunting abilities of Neanderthals. Of collagen in Neanderthal bones from Vindija Cave in Croatia indicated also point out that meat the main source of Protein was; Isotope measurements in several Neanderthals from France were interpreted to mean that these Neanderthals were " top predators ". Such findings led, among other things, to the assumption that the extinction of the Neanderthals could have been partly caused by a less flexible diet compared to Homo sapiens .

In 2010, however, this hypothesis was weakened when an international team of researchers from the Center for Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology at George Washington University found numerous plant microfossils in the tartar of Neanderthal teeth from Belgium and Iraq . Accordingly, dates , legumes and grass seeds were consumed. Furthermore, it was found that the starch stored in the tartar of northern Spanish Neanderthals shows characteristics of a change due to heating; their vegetable diet was consequently made more digestible by cooking, and it consisted at least partially of species that can be interpreted as medicinal or aromatic plants. Using traces of abrasion on the tooth surface of Neanderthals from different epochs (cold and warm periods), it was proven that they adapted their food intake to the available plants depending on the climatic and thus also ecological conditions. Independent of these findings, it was also possible to reconstruct from the 50,000-year-old excrement of Spanish Neanderthals - on the basis of preserved 5β-stigmasterin - that in addition to frequent meat consumption, a considerable proportion of vegetable food was consumed. An isotope study of the skeletal finds from Spy (now the district of Jemeppe-sur-Sambre in Belgium ) showed that around 20 percent of the protein intake was of plant origin, which also means that this population had a higher proportion of meat in the diet than the populations in Spain.

A working group from the Senckenberg Research Institute came to comparable findings, analyzing the wear and tear of 73 molars from the upper jaw of Neanderthals and modern humans: By chopping food, the tooth surface changes depending on the type of food. The test results “clearly show that the diet of both members of the genus Homo was altogether varied.” It was also shown that the composition of the diet “depended on the eco-geographical conditions.” According to this study, too, the meat content was in the diet significantly higher among the Neanderthals living in Northern Europe than among the Neanderthals living in Southern Europe. The diet of the Neanderthals was accordingly as variable and varied as that of the early European Homo sapiens .

The oldest evidence to date of the consumption of snails and mussels comes from the Bajondillo Cave ( Torremolinos , Spain); they were assigned to the oxygen isotope level MIS 6 and dated to an age of 150,000 years. Evidence for the adaptation of the Neanderthals to eco-geographic conditions was also discovered in the coastal Vanguard Cave and the also coastal Gorham Cave in Gibraltar , together with stone tools from Moustérien: shells of Adriatic mussels ( Mytilus galloprovincialis ) and bones of seals , Dolphins and fish there are evidence of thousands of years of consumption of marine animals. Also in the Serra da Arrábida in Portugal, around 100,000 year old evidence of the consumption of marine animals was discovered. Ear canal exostoses in some of the skulls examined were interpreted as independent confirmation that Neanderthals could also obtain food underwater. The oldest evidence of the consumption of pigeons by Neanderthals comes from the Gorham Cave; the surviving bones of these birds show both cuts and burn marks.


Habitat and culture of Homo neanderthalensis in Europe for approx. 220,000 years - transition phase to the classic Neanderthal approx. 120,000 years ago. Correlation of Ice Age and Stone Age periods


The habitat and culture of Homo neanderthalensis extended over large parts of Europe to the Levant in the Middle East and beyond the Crimean peninsula to the edge , especially in the “classic Neanderthal” phase since the Eem warm period around 125,000 years ago Siberia, where archaeological evidence suggests that Siberia was populated in two waves. These early Europeans lived in labor-sharing groups. The Neanderthals are particularly familiar with the cultural area of ​​the Moustérien (125,000 to 40,000 years ago) with u. a. Micoquia - and the Levallois technique of stone working in connection - until the time of their disappearance in the early Aurignacia , when the anatomically modern Homo sapiens ( Cro-Magnon man ) had already immigrated to Europe. The hordes settled z. Some of them are widely scattered, and a uniform way of life cannot be assumed in this huge area. A uniform appearance of the individuals is also unlikely, although genetic traces for red hair and lighter pigmentation have been detected in isolated cases.

Regionally different conditions determined the everyday life of the Neanderthals: climate, terrain and seasons, drinking water and the presence of game and other foodstuffs, especially places where raw materials for stone tools were found. Some groups preferred to stay in caves and grottos or under cliffs (rock overhangs) - e.g. B. in the Dordogne ( Le Moustier , La Ferrassie ) but also in the small Feldhofer grotto in the Neandertal . Others lived in the plains or in forests and built hides out of furs or bushes and branches. There were also dwellings supported by mammoth bones and tusks, e.g. B. in the Netzetal (Hessen). In Rheindahlen near Mönchengladbach, shallow pits with round support holes and fireplaces were found, on a forecourt stone artifacts from several zones: roughly dismantled stone bulbs and fine edge processing by retouching. These finds come from the Eem warm period . In Ukraine , too, there were open-air stations with evidence of fireplaces, and in France features on flint tools that were believed to have arisen while producing sparks were found.

In the Middle East, Neanderthals showed different migration behavior: On the one hand, there were circular hiking strategies from place to place, on the other hand, star-shaped hikes from the base camp to peripheral places with raw material deposits. In the Middle Paleolithic , the Neanderthals deliberately sought out larger deposits of flint and quartzite , in some places for ten thousand years. There are also references to woodworking and the use of wooden lances, e.g. B. a 2.45 meter long yew wood lance that was used to kill forest elephants 120,000 years ago. Sharpened wooden javelins were also used, occasionally with stone points.

Analyzes of the genome of two 120,000 year old Neanderthals from Germany and Belgium showed that the last Neanderthals who lived in Europe around 40,000 years ago were at least partially descended from these 80,000 years older European Neanderthals. At the same time, the analyzes showed that the two 120,000-year-old individuals were less closely related to the Neanderthals living in Siberia at the same time, which means that the Neanderthals in Europe and Siberia had hardly any contact with each other 120,000 years ago.

Some sites show that individual animals were hunted, at other places there are indications of mass hunting: At the site in Salzgitter-Lebenstedt , Neanderthals set up special hunting camps; Hunting remains with the battle marks of 86 reindeer and thousands of stone tools were found here. The hunting season can be set to autumn on the basis of examined teeth and the development of antlers. Medium-sized mammals such as horses, wild donkeys and reindeer were often hunted down and cut up individually, and the parts were taken to their homes. Large mammals (elephants, rhinos) were herded over limestone cliffs on today's island of Jersey. Mass killing and long-term storage of meat only make sense if the hunters were familiar with methods of preservation.

The type of stone tools and weapons used was based on the availability of the raw material, tradition and individual skill. There were Neanderthals who preferred to settle near quarries; others moved over great distances to flint deposits to get the raw material there. Groups who stayed at the craters of the Eastern Eifel volcanoes had tools made of flint with them, the next occurrence of which was in the Maas region (near Aachen and Maastricht), but also so-called Baltic flint from the Ruhr region. These sites were the cornerstones of a roaming area with a diameter of more than 100 km. Stone tools and weapons, which today are assigned to certain cultures or processing techniques ( hand axes , cuts , scrapers , points ) were not always used by all Neanderthal groups and not always in the same period. Some were mostly found in a specific region. Towards the end of their existence, Neanderthal techniques may have been influenced by tools and jewelry from immigrant Cro-Magnon people.


Video: Hyoid bone, FOXP2 gene and speaking ability in Neanderthals

In 1983 the only hyoid bone of a Neanderthal man was discovered in the Kebara cave in Israel's Carmel Mountains . It corresponds to that of modern humans and is considered to be the most important indicator that the Neanderthals had the anatomical prerequisites for the ability to speak . By paläogenetische investigations was also found in October 2007 that Neanderthals on the same FOXP2 gene as modern man possessed. The FOXP2 gene, believed to be important for the development of language , was isolated and analyzed by DNA sequencing from bones of a Neanderthal man found in a Spanish cave. While further evidence is needed, there is no reason to believe that the Neanderthal man could not speak. Katarina Harvati and Maria Kirady speculate that there was probably no “common language” that was understood by all Neanderthals, and that the idioms were probably structured differently than in Homo sapiens .

Tool use

Steeply retouched double scraper (Moustérien), Syria

In Europe, the Moustérie era and stone tools made using the Levallois technique are associated with the Neanderthals. The universal tool for cutting and scraping was the wedge knife for the "classic" Neanderthals of the Würm or Weichsel Glaciation , at the same time the typological key form of the Micoquien (today: "wedge knife groups"). A modern counterpart to this form of device, which was used both for cutting and scraping, is passed down with the Eskimos with the Ulu . The sites of tools that were used during the Moustérie are often only five to six kilometers away from the natural occurrence of the rock from which they were made; from this finding it was concluded that these Neanderthal groups were relatively small. Other groups traveled long distances to the flint deposits to get the raw material there. Some sites were cornerstones of a roaming area with a diameter of more than 100 km.

As evidenced by Lehringen's 120,000-year-old thrust lance found in 1946 , Neanderthals used wooden weapons ( skewers ) to kill large game. In 2018, hunting injuries were detected in two 120,000-year-old fallow deer skeletons recovered near Halle (Saale) . On the basis of an experimental ballistic test set-up “the use of a wooden spear in an upward movement, which was used at low speed” was reconstructed; this indicates “that Neanderthals approached the animals up to a very short distance and used the spear as a thrusting weapon rather than a throwing weapon. Such a confrontational type of hunting required careful planning, stealth and close interaction between the hunters. "Since 1994, open pit Schoningen also eight spears from the Holstein interglacial found ( Schöningen Spears ), which are around 300,000 years old and as javelins be interpreted. The armoring of lances with blade tips is very likely for the late Neanderthals, and the stocking of wooden weapons with Levallois tips has also been proven in several cases. In the archaeological site Poggetti Vecchi in the province of Grosseto (Italy), several dozen were 171,000 years old, in the fire-hardened grave sticks recovered, mostly from the wood of boxwood ( Buxus sempervirens ), but also from oak , juniper and ash were produced. The use of toothpicks is also considered safe.

Neanderthals from the Königsaue site on the Ascherslebener See (Harz foreland) used birch pitch to glue stone artefacts into wooden shafts; another find of birch pitch on a 50,000-year-old stone artefact was reported from the Netherlands. For the distillation of the pitch from birch bark by charring in the absence of air, a constant temperature of about 350 ° C is necessary for a long time; however, a less elaborate procedure (without the exclusion of air) could have been successful.

The abrasive tools ( smoothers ) made of deer bones discovered in the excavation sites of Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l'Azé in southwest France , which were dated to an age of up to 50,000 years, are similar to the smooth woods ( lissoirs ) used to this day Leather is processed. These hitherto oldest special tools in Europe were used to soften the leather by scraping, grinding and polishing and increased its water resistance. According to the researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, this would possibly be evidence that the Neanderthals already had their own technology, the development of which was previously attributed to modern humans, but which they could also have adopted from Neanderthals. When they immigrated to Europe, they only knew sharp bone tools, but a short time later they made lissoirs.


The Neanderthals were probably the first people to make clothes, but - unlike the Cro-Magnon people - no evidence of the manufacture and use of needles has been discovered. In the Abri du Maras (at the end of the Gorges de l'Ardèche , Département Ardèche , France), however, plant fibers twisted into threads were discovered in the immediate vicinity of stone tools, which do not occur naturally in such a state, are 40,000 to 50,000 years old and due to this dating was attributed to the Neanderthals. From Neumark-Nord , an approx. 200,000 year old site on a former lakeshore near Frankleben in Saxony-Anhalt , comes a stone device with adhering residues of oak acid in a concentration that cannot occur naturally and therefore as an indication of the tanning of Animal skins is interpreted.

From model calculations it was also deduced that the Neanderthals probably made and wore clothes. According to the calculations, a clothed Neanderthal man, whose body weight was 80 kg, would have had to form an additional 50 kg of subcutaneous fat tissue during the cold spells of that time in order to withstand the cold without clothing. Ian Tattersall commented: "Being built like a sumo wrestler is hardly what can be considered an ideal adaptation to a hunter lifestyle."

Find places on the Crimean peninsula

Carvings on a 36,000 year old flint from the Kiik-Koba site

Find places on the Crimean peninsula partly show cultural layers from the Eem warm period (125,000 years before today) to the extinction of the Neanderthals about 30,000 years ago. According to this, the tool culture remained largely unchanged for tens of thousands of years: flat blades that were mostly kept functional for a long time by surface retouching on both sides. They were located in the side handles made of wood or bone and were partially retouched in the assembled state. This " Ak-Kaya industry " called culture is similar to the Micoquian industry of Central Europe , which is also ascribed to the Neanderthals . With the drop in temperatures to the first maximum of the last Ice Age about 60,000 years ago, the culture changed: Tools made of flint were now produced using the cutting technique, which were thrown away after wear and not retouched. The culture of the late Neanderthals was therefore similar to the Aurignacien des Homo sapiens in Central Europe, although this was only detected in the Crimea 30,000 years ago. The Neanderthals had therefore anticipated important innovations of modern man in the Crimea.

The numerous bones of wild asses found at the Kabazi site make it clear that the Neanderthals were able to proceed according to plan when raiding. The findings were interpreted to mean that entire families or herds of donkeys with parents and young animals were captured while they were drinking on the nearby river. The prey was cut up on the spot, but significant parts of the animals were transported away in one piece and cut, prepared and consumed elsewhere. There was also evidence of a division of labor over different storage areas: there were storage areas where game was cut up and stone tools were made, as well as others where people obviously lived longer and consumed more frequently. A clear systematic division of labor and organization, a seasonally oriented specialization in individual animal species and seasonal storage places for the whole group could be identified. The researchers gained the impression of Middle Paleolithic people who had already developed certain Upper Paleolithic achievements, but were not yet familiar with others: For example, typical Upper Paleolithic features such as special antler and bone workings as well as tools such as burins and scratches were not proven .

At the site of Kiik-Koba , a large cave in the Crimean Mountains (44 ° 57 'N, 34 ° 21' E), a flint with incisions was recovered, the layer of which was found to be 35,000 to 37,000 years old using calibrated C14 dating (35 to 37 cal kyr BP) was dated; the incisions were interpreted as possibly deliberately designed figurative engraving.

Find places in Germany and Austria

The Balver Cave (hand-colored, before 1900)

The most famous site in Germany is the Neandertal , where only a few stone tools have been found that were not directly related to the eponymous fossil Neandertal 1 .

The Balver Cave in Westphalia, on the other hand, is an important find spot in Germany , because it was repeatedly visited by Neanderthals in the first half of the Vistula Glaciation 100,000 to 40,000 years ago. In the finds from the Balver cave, numerous stone artefacts and many devices made of bone and mammoth ivory were identified. The sediment of the cave was also interspersed with the bones of mammoths, especially calves and young animals; it is believed that the very large number of animals in the vicinity of the cave were killed. In the Gudenushöhle (Kleines Kremstal , Lower Austria), the lower, 70,000-year-old cultural layer suggests hunting mammoths , woolly rhinos , reindeer , wild horses and cave bears . Due to the frequent head and arm injuries to Neanderthal skeletons, it is concluded that the large game was hunted with close-range weapons, as the finding of a wooden lance tip shows.

Possible seafaring (in Greece)

Evidence of early seafaring Neanderthals were in the eastern Mediterranean found space where Neanderthals and their ancestors ( Homo heidelbergensis ) had lived for about 300,000 years. Their typical Moustérien stone tools were not only found on the Greek mainland, but - dated to an age of at least 110,000 years - also on the Greek islands of Lefkada , Kefalonia and Zakynthos . With the exception of Lefkada - a peninsula on the Greek mainland during the Ice Ages when the sea level was up to 120 meters lower - Kefalonia and Zakynthos, including Ithaca , formed a single large island during these times. It was surrounded by at least 180 meters deep water and could probably only be reached by watercraft; the distance to the mainland was about 5 to 7.5 kilometers to the southern tip of the Lefkada peninsula.

In 2008 and 2009, researchers working with Thomas Strasser from Providence College found stone tools that were 130,000 years old in the Megalopotamos gorge on Crete , above the palm beach of Preveli ; these tools also come from an era in which Homo sapiens was not yet established in Europe. Crete has been completely surrounded by water for around 5.3 million years, the nearest land was around 40 kilometers away even during the Ice Ages. Strasser does not assign the finds on Crete to Homo neanderthalensis , but to Homo heidelbergensis or Homo erectus .

Stone implements from the Middle Paleolithic can also be found on Naxos ; It is not clear whether this island was at least temporarily accessible from the mainland during the ice ages. In 2019, an age of around 200,000 years was reported for the finds.

In Asia, Homo erectus was only able to colonize the island of Flores after having crossed several waterways between the neighboring islands around a million years ago, even those that existed during the Ice Ages (see Homo floresiensis ).

Body jewelry, symbolic thinking

130,000 year old sea ​​eagles - claws from Krapina ( Croatia ) that have been interpreted as part of a piece of jewelry.

In the south-east of Spain, several mussel shells were discovered in two caves, which have 5 mm holes in the area of ​​their vertebra (without the assistance of their collectors) and are 45,000 to 50,000 years old according to radiocarbon dating ; both caves are known to be the abode of Neanderthals. The shell of a large pilgrim mussel from the Cueva Antón is painted on the outside with orange pigment , several mussel shells from the Cueva de los Aviones have red, yellow and orange pigments. Other remains of red and yellow paint were also found nearby. These finds were interpreted as evidence that the creators of the finds used the mussel shells and the pigments "in an aesthetic and presumably symbolic" way - possibly attached to a collar. According to a study published in 2018, the finds from the Cueva de los Aviones are even 115,000 to 120,000 years old, according to uranium-thorium dating .

The mask by La Roche-Cotard found in France is also attributed to a Neanderthal man . Furthermore, in excavations in Pech de l'Azé in France, manganese-containing pigment lumps were found, which suggest that the body was painted by the Neanderthals. Most of the discoveries of color pigments date from the period 60,000 to 40,000 years ago; the oldest find - red ocher , the use of which is unclear - comes from Maastricht- Belvédère and, at 250,000 to 200,000 years old, is similar to the pigment finds from Africa, which are ascribed to the early Homo sapiens .

In the Italian Grotta di Fumane (Cave of Fumane ), 18 km north-west of Verona, 44,000-year-old evidence of the removal of large feathers from bird species that were not consumed, such as the bearded vulture or red-footed falcon, was found . Signs of body painting were also discovered.

Eight claws of white-tailed eagles preserved from the excavations in Krapina were classified as parts of jewelry in 2015: The examination with light microscopes ruled out any incised and polished areas on the claws of natural origin or accidental influences and led to the conclusion that the claws were decorative Parts of a necklace were used. The authors concluded from this that objects were used symbolically by Neanderthals in Europe 130,000 years ago and thus before their contact with modern humans. This interpretation was supported in 2019 by the evidence of cutting traces on wing bones of golden eagles (on bones that hardly attach meat) from other sites in Central and Western Europe, which was assessed as evidence of careful separation of the feathers from the bones. This gave the authors reason to suspect that the feathers could have served as jewelry. Cutting marks were also found on a toe bone from the Foradada Cave in Calafell (Spain), which is presumably attributable to a Spanish imperial eagle .

Cave painting

The oldest known cave paintings of anatomically modern humans from Europe are around 40,000 years old. An international team of researchers led by Dirk Hoffmann from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reported in early 2018 that Neanderthals in Europe created cave art more than 20,000 years before the arrival of anatomically modern humans. Using uranium-thorium dating, the researchers analyzed 60 samples of carbonate crusts on the color pigments of paintings in three caves in Spain: from the Cueva de La Pasiega in the northeast, the Maltravieso cave in the west and the Ardales cave in the South. “They mostly contain red, sometimes black paintings that include groups of animals, dots, geometric symbols, as well as positive and negative handprints and rock carvings.” According to the findings, the paintings are at least 64,800 years old. An accompanying comment in the journal Science stated that this dating had “hit like a bomb” among experts: “ Now, archaeologists may have to accept that Neandertals were the original cave artists. ”(German:“ The archaeologists will now have to acknowledge that the Neanderthals were the first cave artists. ”) The dates are, however, controversial.

For a long time, science assumed that men had artistically implemented their hunting experiences in the paintings, but there was no evidence for this. Pennsylvania State University archaeologist Dean Snow analyzed handprints from eight French and Spanish Stone Age caves, including the El Castillo Cave, and found that around three quarters of all colored hands are from women, and there are also numerous handprints from children and adolescents .

Spatially differentiated use of caves

Neanderthals apparently lived on three levels in the Bombrini rock overhang in northwestern Italy, which is referred to as a logistical base camp . Each of these levels contained artifacts that made it possible to deduce a division into rooms that were used for slaughter, living and tool making.

In a cave near Bruniquel in southern France , numerous fragments of more than 400 stalagmites that were deliberately broken off were discovered, which are arranged in two rings of 6.70 and 4.50 meters in circumference ( stone circles in the Bruniquel cave ). These constructions were erected 176,500 ± 2100 years ago, around 330 meters from the cave entrance. The function of these rings is unclear, but a burnt piece of bone the size of a thumb was discovered, from which it was concluded that food may have been prepared here. However, this cannot explain why the Neanderthals invested so much effort in such a remote, difficult-to-reach place.


Sketch of a buried Neanderthal from the Kebara Cave
The child's skull from the Teschik Tash cave

Due to at least isolated burials of their dead both in Europe and in the Middle East and the depositing of the dead in caves, Homo neanderthalensis is next to Homo sapiens the most fossilized species of hominini . “The deceased was usually laid in the supine position or in a stool position - that is, lying on his side with his legs drawn up - in the grave. Remnants of red chalk and ocher pigments were identified in the graves at La Ferrassie , Spy and La Chapelle-aux-Saints . The importance of colors at the funerals of Neanderthals and the cultic practices to which the use of natural pigments can be traced is unknown. ”A big difference between the graves of the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnon people is primarily the grave goods :

“Upper Paleolithic graves were often very complex with richly decorated dead and numerous grave goods. Correspondingly interpreted objects in Moustérien graves, on the other hand, were mostly everyday objects such as stone tools and individual animal bones. These could have been meant as equipment and for supply in later life, but it would also be conceivable that they were omnipresent objects in the living room and ended up in the grave by chance. There are only a few things in Moustérien graves, the interpretation of which as 'grave goods' stands up to critical analysis. "

As early as 1945, for example, the grave of an approximately nine-year-old Neanderthal boy was described, which was discovered in the Teschik-Tasch cave in Uzbekistan ; the child's skeleton lay there for around 70,000 years, surrounded by capricorn horns.

About the same age more Neanderthal are grave sites in the Shanidar -Höhle ( Iraq ). An unusually high concentration of flower pollen was found in grave IV , which was occasionally interpreted as evidence of “ shamanism and ritualized burials”; however, the flowers could also have been carried off into the cave by the Persian gerbils that frequently occur there and buried in the burial horizon. Neanderthal finds, which are controversially discussed as burials or laying down in pits, can also be found in Abri La Ferrassie (south-west France). In 2011, burial findings from the Spanish cave Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo became known. The so-called Old Man of La Chapelle was also recovered from a pit, "the filling of which is clearly different in color from the surrounding sediment."

Bones of cave bears in the Swiss Drachenloch - cave , which were arranged between stone slabs that were the cause of the Neanderthals assumed bear worship . The rocks can, of course, have fallen from the cave ceiling without human intervention, and the "aligned" arrangement of the finds was effected by the action of water. Especially since there is no further evidence for such an early bear cult (such as ritual objects, communal burials, etc.) and existing bear cults are very complex, its existence is now considered unlikely or refuted.

Reproduction and population density

Genetic analyzes of tooth finds in the Spanish El Sidron Cave indicate a patrilocal reproductive behavior of the Neanderthals. Carles Lalueza-Fox from the Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, ​​who carried out these analyzes using mitochondrial DNA on a 12-member family related Neanderthal group, interprets this as a social practice of the Neanderthals, as also occurs in modern hunter-gatherer cultures, namely, that the women left their original groups while the men remained in the father's group. However , it has not yet been conclusively clarified whether this implies a consistently patrilineal social practice of the Neanderthals. The lineages within the group based on the mtDNA analysis also make a Neanderthal birth rate of approx. 3 years appear plausible.

Using the transmitted only from the mother to the children of DNA of the mitochondria ( mtDNA ) from five Neanderthals was calculated in 2009 that before about 70,000 and 40,000 years ago at most 3,500 female Neanderthals lived simultaneously. How meaningful this estimate is, however, remained controversial. On the one hand, it was deduced from it that the total population at a certain point in time in this late phase of the Neanderthals was only 7000 individuals; At the same time, however, an article accompanying the study in the journal Science referred to model calculations for today's population in Sweden, where around nine million people live. A procedure comparable to that of the Neanderthals would only come to 100,000 individuals for today's Swedish Homo sapiens population; therefore the actual number of female Neanderthals in the mentioned epoch could well have been 70,000.

Jean-Jacques Hublin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology , on the other hand, came to the conclusion in 2018 that “even in times of their greatest spread” there were no more “than an estimated 10,000 'Neanderthal Europeans'” at the same time, whereby the size of the individual groups "at most 50 to 60 women and men".

die out

The reasons for the extinction of the Neanderthals are unknown. There are no signs of acts of war or of a very rapid transition in the colonization of Europe from the Neanderthals to anatomically modern humans. Rather, it was calculated in 2014 that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans coexisted in Europe for 2600 to 5400 years; In 2020 this period was limited to 3960 ± 710 years after an updated calibration of the C14 method .

A team of scientists led by John Lowe published a study in 2012, the result of which was that the climate in Europe, which was gradually colder between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago, apparently had no significant influence on the extinction of the Neanderthals, because the main glaciation of Europe only began around 25,000 years ago and reached its maximum 20,000 years ago, when the Neanderthals were long gone. According to a further analysis by Michael Staubwasser and colleagues from 2018, however, there were numerous changes from pronounced cold phases to less cold interstadials 44,000 to 40,000 years ago . This has repeatedly led to regional Neanderthal depopulation and subsequently possibly to the colonization of the depopulated regions by Homo sapiens . It is also considered that hunting together with early "wolf-dogs" brought advantages for the Cro-Magnon people.

The US archaeologist Paola Villa and her Dutch colleague Wil Roebroeks found no archaeological findings in the entire specialist literature in 2014 that prove a cultural superiority of Homo sapiens over Neanderthals; instead, they suspect a gradual numerical superiority of Homo sapiens . However, model calculations show that group size and population density can definitely have an impact on cultural complexity. The German paleoanthropologist Friedemann Schrenk also suspects: “Most likely, the theory of the Neanderthal appears to be a grouch about reproduction. So-called 'bottle-neck' situations, i.e. population bottlenecks, were not uncommon in human history and could therefore also have affected the Neanderthals. ”The comparison of 17,367 protein-coding genes from Neanderthals from Spain, Croatia and southern Siberia - that is from far apart regions Eurasiens - actually showed evidence of a "remarkably low" ( remarkably low ) genetic diversity. The decisive factor for extinction could therefore have been that modern humans became sexually mature earlier and had more offspring.

There is also archaeological evidence that, for example, in the Aquitaine region - an area with the greatest density of finds from both populations - the number of individuals of Homo sapiens increased tenfold between 55,000 and 35,000 years ago . Presumably, modern people were able to survive better than the Neanderthals ( avenue effect ) in more densely populated areas due to their culturally traditional behavior . Statistical population models show that differences of just a few percent in the reproduction rate are enough to lead to the extinction of the less favored population in a few thousand years. In a review in 2010 , Katerina Harvati named not only a higher birth rate, shorter intervals between two births and the resulting larger groups, but also other scenarios that individual researchers - in different combinations - consider possible: For example, anatomically modern people could have one had lower mortality, increased food choices, and better clothing or shelter during the cold periods. Different trading habits were also considered.

Experts also discuss that the anatomically modern people who immigrated to Europe brought with them African diseases to which the Neanderthals were not adapted and that there may be a connection with the eruption of a volcano in the Phlegraean Fields of the southern Italian region of Campania (see Campanian ignimbrite ) .

Relationship to modern man


After the view that the Neanderthals were a forerunner of the anatomically modern human being had prevailed at the end of the 19th century, a debate began in specialist circles about their kinship that continues to this day. There were initially different opinions, especially on the question of whether the Neanderthals were only temporally and spatially forerunners of Homo sapiens or whether anatomically modern humans developed out of them. The German anatomist Gustav Schwalbe , for example, examined the Neanderthal finds known until 1906 (he referred to them as Homo primigenius , "original man") and interpreted some finds as "intermediate forms between Homo primigenius and sapiens." The prevailing opinion in the 1910s and 1920s was, however, mainly influenced by Arthur Keith and Marcellin Boule , who wrote the first scientific description of an almost complete Neanderthal skeleton; both were among the most influential paleoanthropologists of their time. In their opinion, the Neanderthal's physique was so " primitive " that it could not be a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens . This view was due, among other things, to an incorrect reconstruction of the Neanderthal find La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 by Marcellin Boule, who had reconstructed the fossil in a crooked posture, with a crooked spine and bent legs.

This interpretation changed in the 1930s when Ernst Mayr , George Gaylord Simpson and Theodosius Dobzhansky assigned the Neanderthals as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis to the anatomically modern human being of the same species, now called Homo sapiens sapiens . The seemingly seamless sequence of sites of both - now - subspecies in Europe was interpreted to mean that there was a slow, gradual evolutionary transition from Neanderthals to anatomically modern humans. For example, Aleš Hrdlička defended the hypothesis of the “Neanderthal phase of man” in 1927. In 1943 Franz Weidenreich once again referred to the Neanderthals as the “intermediate form” between the Chinese Sinanthropus and Homo sapiens , thus also opting for a continuous transition, and in 1964 this view was defended by a large and prominent group of authors. Together with similar interpretations of finds in Asia, the hypothesis of the multiregional origin of modern man emerged from these considerations .

In the following four decades, numerous newly discovered fossils in Europe and the subsequent reinterpretation of earlier finds ensured that the early, so-called Presapiens fossils were all placed in the ancestral line of the Neanderthals; this included u. a. the Swanscombe skull from England , the skull from Steinheim in Baden-Württemberg and the skulls from Tautavel and Biache-Saint-Vaast in France. Until the early 1980s, the doctrine of paleoanthropology gradually gained acceptance that there was only the line of development leading to the Neanderthal in Europe and that - based on Homo sapiens - there was a separate line of development, that of African fossils from the early New Pleistocene leading to the Cro-Magnon people in western Eurasia and to the people of the present. This “Afro-European Sapiens Hypothesis”, first formulated by Günter Bräuer at the 1st International Congress for Paleoanthropology in Nice, is known today as the Out-of-Africa theory . However, a small number of researchers continued to advocate the multiregional model, Milford H. Wolpoff and Alan G. Thorne, for example - supported a. a. on morphological analyzes by Weidenreich - in 2003, while researchers such as Günter Bräuer assumed that Homo sapiens replaced the Neanderthals in Europe and other archaic species such as Homo erectus in Asia ("replacement" instead of "continuity"), which is what they believe but did not rule out the possibility of gene flow between species. The abandonment of the assumed gradual evolutionary transition of the Neanderthals to anatomically modern humans meant that both were again given the status of species ( Homo neanderthalenis and Homo sapiens ) instead of subspecies. Chris Stringer justified this in 2001 and again in 2014, for example, with the fact that the Neanderthals are closely related to Homo sapiens , but have a sufficient number of anatomical features that are unique to them, Ian Tattersall reinforced this argument from the point of view of the morphological concept of species in 2015, while Fiorenzo Facchini (2006) and several other researchers continue to prefer classification as subspecies.

According to Svante Pääbo, it is unclear whether, in view of the genetic data, the classification of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans into two biological species will last, since there is no binding standard for determining the morphological or genetic distance from which separate species can be assumed.

Chris Stringer had already summarized in 2012: "Although the normal species definition is not given due to the incomplete reproductive delimitation, it is too early and in view of the large morphological differences for practical reasons not yet necessary to identify H. heidelbergensis , H. neanderthalensis and the Denisova- To summarize humans with H. sapiens in one kind. "

Today's views

Skull fragments from Homo antecessor

The relationship between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) has been largely clarified. There is a consensus among paleoanthropologists that both had a common ancestor in African Homo erectus . Based on fossil and tool finds, it is considered proven that Homo erectus left Africa "during the first wave of propagation around 2 million years ago" towards the Levant , Black Sea region and Georgia, and possibly via northwest Africa towards southern Spain. This early settlement of Georgia is documented by the 1.8 million year old hominine fossils of Dmanissi . The oldest, highly fragmented finds in Europe come from Spain. These 1.2 million year old finds are called Homo antecessor by their discoverers and identified as the ancestors of the Neanderthals; however, this interpretation is highly controversial and seems to have been refuted by the latest genetic findings on the relationship between the Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans.

According to many paleoanthropologists, a second wave of the spread of the African Homo erectus occurred around 600,000 years ago . Skulls from that period found in Spain, for example, allow the brain to assume a volume between 1100 cm³ and 1450 cm³; the brain volume of the fossil finds from the first wave of propagation is estimated to be just over 1000 cm³. After this second colonization of Europe by Homo erectus , this intermediate stage, known as Homo heidelbergensis , developed into the Neanderthals in Europe , while in Africa about 300,000 years ago - as evidenced by fossil finds - Homo erectus became the so-called early anatomically modern man and from this the modern man emerged.

The approximately 400,000 year old Swanscombe skull : view from behind / diagonally below of the occipital hole

However, it is more controversial when the line of development leading to the Neanderthals separated from the line of development leading to today's humans. Using the molecular clock , a time span between 440,000 and 270,000 years ago was initially calculated in 2010. The “accuracy” of the molecular clock on which such estimates are based is, however, controversial; The dates determined with the help of geological - especially stratigraphic - methods often differ considerably from those determined with the help of the molecular clock. In the case of the separation of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens , the dating of the above-mentioned Spanish finds, which are attributed to the second wave of propagation of Homo erectus , spoke against the calculations using the molecular clock. A recalculation of the mutation rates in 2012 showed evidence of a significantly earlier separation; it was dated - rather imprecisely - to the period between 800,000 and 400,000 years ago. The dating is supported, among other things, by the approximately 400,000 year old Swanscombe skull , which - although mostly still related to Homo heidelbergensis - was already ascribed clear characteristics of the early Neanderthals.

The attempts at dating with the help of the “molecular clock” also deviate considerably from the findings that were derived from the analysis of 1200 hominine molars , including teeth from all species of the Homo genus and from Paranthropus . A Spanish-American research group used Neanderthal teeth and teeth of anatomically modern humans to reconstruct the condition of the teeth of the last common ancestor of both populations and compared this reconstruction with the teeth of earlier hominin species. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , they reported in 2013 that - derived, among other things, from the change in tooth shape in the transition period from Homo heidelbergensis to Neanderthals - the lines of development of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, according to their calculations, already changed 1 million years ago separated. In 2019, this line of argument was confirmed in another study and 800,000 years were calculated as the minimum age for the last common ancestor.

However, all dating shows that the Central European populations of Homo erectus / Homo heidelbergensis and the Neanderthal man lived spatially separated from Homo sapiens for several hundred thousand years until the immigration of the anatomically modern man - who came from Africa - around 40,000 to 45,000 years ago . Two milk teeth ascribed to Homo sapiens from the Grotta del Cavallo in Apulia have been dated to an age of 45,000 to 43,000 years ago ( cal BP ); they are the oldest evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens in Europe and at the same time prove that Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis inhabited the same continent for a few thousand years.

Mixing of anatomical features

The close juxtaposition of references of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans in the Levant , is "that the two Hominidengruppen coexisted at least 60,000 years without any problems." That to Homo sapiens belonging skullcap Manot 1 from Manot Cave was in Israel for example, dated to an age of 54,700 ± 5,500 years (cal BP), an era from which various Neanderthals are known in this region. Therefore, the question was obvious whether, despite the long separation of the two groups, common fertile offspring in Europe could still have been possible. This assumption was also supported by empirical evidence that complete reproductive isolation in medium-sized mammals generally takes at least 1.4 million years.

In fact, some European Neanderthals have been interpreted as mixed race due to anatomical features . The main proponent of the “mixing hypothesis” was the American researcher Erik Trinkaus , who, contrary to the prevailing doctrine, assumes a smooth transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens not only for Africa but also for Asia . In terms of the intermingling hypothesis, Trinkaus, for example, interprets a child's skeleton (“ child of Lagar Velho ”) found in 1998 in the Lapedo Valley in central Portugal as a “mixed race child ”. The almost completely preserved skeleton of the approximately four-year-old child was buried about 25,000 years ago in a bed made of burned pine branches and covered with red ocher, as was customary for the funeral rituals of anatomically modern humans and in particular in Gravettia . Most of the anatomical features also identify it as a modern human. For example, the position of the semicircular canals of the inner ear resembles that of modern humans and not of Neanderthals. However, the child's skeleton has three abnormalities: its lower jaw, which recedes backwards, certain approaches to the chest muscles and relatively short lower legs. These three traits can also appear in Neanderthals. However, the reactions to the interpretation of the fossil were largely dismissive in the scientific field.

In a publication by Erik Trinkaus and Romanian colleagues from 2006 it was also argued that the 30,000-year-old bones discovered in 1952 in the Peştera Muierii cave in Romania indicate similarities between Neanderthals and modern humans. For Homo sapiens characteristic is the relatively small jaw with pronounced canines and small is eyebrow arches and narrow nostrils. Characteristic of the Neanderthals are the large eye relief and the receding forehead with large bulges above the eyes . There were also different opinions about the Romanian Peștera-cu-Oasis finds, especially about the 42,000 to 37,000 year old lower jaw Oasis 1 .

The vast majority of paleoanthropologists rejected this intermingling hypothesis, however, since the fossils of both species can usually be clearly distinguished on the basis of numerous anatomical features:

“Traces of such a possible intermezzo could then be clearly demonstrated in the anatomy, if one considers that the stocky Neanderthals defied the Ice Age and the more delicate Homo sapiens had fled the African sun. But all skull and skeletal parts found were - albeit after a few trials and tribulations - classified as either clearly modern or clearly neandertaloid. It was not until the discovery of the so-called 'half-breed child' from Lagar Velho in Portugal in 1998 that the proponents of the mixing theory gave new impetus.

In addition, it was derived from the analyzes of the Neanderthal DNA that the gene flow reported in 2010 probably took place before the colonization of Europe by anatomically modern humans. The anatomical features highlighted by Trinkaus were therefore interpreted by the vast majority of paleoanthropologists as an indication of the common descent of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans from Homo erectus and not as the result of a genetic mixture. This view is also supported by methods of geometric morphometry . In a study, the size of the morphological differences between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens was first determined; In the next step, the differences between 12 species of primate living today were determined in pairs and the size of these differences compared with that of the pair Neanderthals / Homo sapiens . As a result, it was found that the morphological distance between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens is comparable to the morphological differences between the primate species living today. The lower jaw of Mezzena , which was assigned to the Neanderthals for decades, also proved to be Homo sapiens .

  • A DNA analysis carried out in 2013 of the 40,000-year-old lower jaw Oase 1 from Romania then showed that at least the young man from whom this jaw came was actually the descendant of a mongrel: 6 to 9 percent of his genome interpreted as coming from the Neanderthal. The chromosome 12 contained even an extremely long, the Neanderthals attributable portion that about half of the base pairs comprised of this chromosome. From this it was deduced that the pairing could not have been more than four to six generations ago, since otherwise - due to crossing-over - changes in the base pair sequence would have occurred. However, it has also been proven that the DNA segments from anatomically modern humans are more similar to fossil finds from Asia and not to later finds from Europe or to humans living today; from this it was deduced that the population to which Oasis 1 belonged represented a “dead end”, the genes of which were not included in today's population of Homo sapiens .
  • Another discovery published in 2015 of an early Homo sapiens , the thigh bone of Ust-Ishim in Siberia, also found Neanderthal DNA with a share of 2 percent. The time of the gene flow was dated to around 7,000 to 13,000 years before the life of the individual who lived around 45,000 years ago - with genetic proximity to people living in Eurasia.

These studies show that matings between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons (or early Eurasian Homo sapiens ) did not only take place in the Levant , but also in Eastern Europe and in Siberia.

Mixing of the genetic material

Preparation of extraction of Neanderthal DNA in a clean room laboratory of Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary anthropology

From the mid-1990s, Svante Pääbo's group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology developed methods of extracting fossil DNA - so-called aDNA - from Neanderthal bones. The aim of this research work was stated as follows: "Comparisons of the human genome with the genome of Neanderthals and great apes make it possible to identify characteristic features that set anatomically modern humans apart from all other hominin species."

How often common, fertile offspring of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans conceived , were not known. A group of authors led by Svante Pääbo, who in 2014 compared the frequency of Neanderthal alleles in the autosomes with their frequency in the X chromosomes of people living today, said, however, that this may only have occurred four times.

2006: first findings

The study of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from several Neanderthal skeletons, early Homo sapiens -Funden and the suspected mosaic forms at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology yielded no evidence that genes from Homo neanderthalensis in populations of Homo sapiens passed were. As early as 1997, 378 base pairs of mtDNA of the type specimen Neandertal 1 were compared with a large comparison series of (recent) modern humans. As a result, it was concluded at that time that the common ancestor lived about 600,000 years before today and that no recognizable genetic exchange had taken place later.

Parallel to the sequencing of the mitochondrial DNA, attempts were made at the same institute to reconstruct the DNA from the nucleus of Neanderthals. In May 2006, the researchers reported that they were able to sequence around one million base pairs - out of a total of more than three billion - from a 45,000-year-old male Neanderthals found in the Vindija Cave in Croatia . One of the results of these preliminary analyzes was that the Y chromosome of the Neanderthal man is more different from the Y chromosome of modern humans and that of the chimpanzee than the other chromosomes. Overall, it was derived from these DNA analyzes - at least for the late Neanderthals - that there was hardly any mixing with anatomically modern humans. “No Sex with Homo sapiens” was the logical answer in 2009 in a publication by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, with reference to their experts for DNA sequencing of the Neanderthal genome.

A detailed analysis in 2007 caused a stir: the structure of the MC1R gene and the MC1R receptor protein it encodes revealed indications that individual Neanderthals may have had very low skin pigmentation , comparable to the pigmentation of red-haired and light-skinned people living today . MC1R regulates the coloring of the skin not only in humans but also in many other vertebrates.

2010: Publication of the genome

The first partial results of the decoding of the genome have been reported since 2009. The genomes of modern humans and Neanderthals differ by less than 0.5 percent, it said. In May 2010, a team led by Richard E. Green from Svante Pääbo's group finally published a detailed analysis of the reconstructed 60 percent aDNA of the Neanderthals (the page numbers in the following text refer to this study). An even more comprehensive reconstruction of the DNA was finally published in spring 2013.

The starting material was aDNA fragments of less than 200, mostly only 40 to 60 base pairs . They were taken from three fragments of tibia finds from the Vindija cave and their reconstruction was compared with aDNA from three other Neanderthal finds , one of which was the holotype from the Neanderthal. The reconstructed Neanderthal DNA was then compared with DNA samples from modern humans from Africa, Europe and Asia.

The DNA analysis again showed that the genetic makeup of the Neanderthals differed only slightly from the genetic makeup of modern humans. The authors of the study even emphasized “the fact that the Neanderthals are within the range of variation of modern humans” (p. 713). Nevertheless, several dozen gene variants have been identified that can be used to differentiate Neanderthals and Homo sapiens . It is considered certain by some that the causative mutations only occurred after the separation of the two lines of development that led to Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans: in anatomically modern humans, because these genes are identical in Neanderthals and in chimpanzees living today - that is, original - nucleotide sequence . Among other things, changes in the gene SPAG17, which influences the structure of axonemes and thus the mobility of the flagellum of a sperm, were highlighted, as well as in the gene PCD16, which codes for cadherin-1 in fibroblasts and possibly influences wound healing. Three other genes influence the structure and pigmentation of the skin (p. 715).

Other mutations affect genes that are related to human cognitive functions; Deviations from the "genetic norm" make themselves felt in the affected people in the form of an increased likelihood of certain mental disorders.

The RUNX2 gene, which has been modified in anatomically modern humans in comparison to the Neanderthals, was also highlighted, in which a malfunction results in deviations in the structure of the head and trunk. The study's authors hypothesized "that this change affected features of the morphology of the upper body and head" (p. 717). Evidence that certain externally recognizable features of anatomically modern humans are caused by Neanderthal genes have not been discovered.

2016/17: Evidence of gene flow to Neanderthals

In 2016, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology found genes from the nucleus of modern humans in a cave in the Siberian Altai Mountains . They conclude that the intermingling took place around 100,000 years ago. The mixing is thus significantly earlier than the one that has previously been detectable in Europe, which is estimated at around 60,000 years. Modern humans and Neanderthals probably first met in the Middle East , according to the researchers, and this process repeated in other places at other times.

An investigation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 2017 revealed evidence of a further gene flow in the period between 470,000 and 220,000 years ago from anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) to Neanderthals. A fundamental difference was found in the mtDNA of earlier and later Neanderthals: the mtDNA of early fossils is similar to that of Denisovans , while the mtDNA of later Neanderthals is similar to that of anatomically modern humans. The results fit the hypothesis that between 765,000 and 550,000 years ago the lines of development to the Neanderthals and Denisovans on the one hand and to the anatomically modern man on the other hand split up. Then the Neanderthal and Denisova lineages were separated, which explains the Denisova-like mtDNA of the early Neanderthals. This was later - so the assumption - replaced by mtDNA of modern humans, so that young Neanderthals have a far more 'modern' mtDNA compared to Denisova humans. Anatomically modern people would have migrated from Africa to Europe relatively early on without surviving there, or this “vanguard” would have been absorbed by the Neanderthal populations that were widespread at the time.

The genetic diversity and thus also the distribution of the Neanderthals appears to be greater than expected before the study. Only in the late Neanderthals were their populations so thinned out that they had to give way to the renewed onslaught of Homo sapiens . For these investigations, in addition to the Denisova finds and 430,000-year-old early human fossils from the Sima de los Huesos cave in northern Spain (with the Denisova-like mtDNA), an approximately 124,000-year-old Neanderthal thigh bone from the Swabian Alb , which was found in the Hohlenstein- Stadel cave near Ulm (and whose mtDNA had the 'modern' characteristics) was used. The humerus from the cave near Ulm is currently the oldest Neanderthal fossil, the mtDNA of which shows the modern characteristics and therefore limits the period for the genetic infiltration together with the northern Spanish find.

The assumption also provides an explanation for the paradox that, according to genetic analyzes of the cell nucleus DNA (nuclear DNA), the closest relative of the Neanderthal man is the Denisova man; according to the analyzes of the mtDNA (initially only from late Neanderthal fossils) this seemed to be modern man. - For the old fossils from Sima de los Huesos, on the other hand, the mtDNA shows the same relationship as the nuclear DNA.

Detection of gene flow to Homo sapiens
In 2012,
Chris Stringer emphasized in his family tree hypothesis that he assumed the central position of Homo heidelbergensis as a link between Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo sapiens ; other paleoanthropologists assign the African finds identified here as heidelbergensis to Homo erectus . On the far right, Stringer suggests that some genetic abnormalities have been detected in Africa that seem to indicate a third gene flow from a previously unexplained pre- human population to anatomically modern humans. In the Asian Homo erectus , Stringer emphasizes the separation into Peking man and Java man , and he interprets Homo antecessor as an early European branch of Homo erectus . The origin of Homo floresiensis is unclear.

As early as 2010, the researchers paid special attention to the comparison of the Neanderthal genome with human DNA from different parts of the world and ethnic groups : with DNA sequences from a French, a Han Chinese , a Papuan , a Yoruba and a San . They reported that the Neanderthals' genome bears a significantly greater similarity to the genome of Europeans and Asians than to the genome of Africans: the French, Han and Papuan are equally close to the Neanderthals, the Yoruba and the San have them genetic closeness alike not (p 718). The authors interpreted this as follows: "The most sparing explanation for this observation is that Neanderthals exchanged genes with the ancestors of non-Africans." Since a gene flow from Homo sapiens to Neanderthals could be ruled out on the basis of further analyzes of the examined genomes of the five representatives of today's populations the study to the result "that the gene flow from the Neanderthals to the ancestors of the non-Africans took place before the Eurasian groups separated from each other" (p. 710), that is in the Middle East , where Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans in the time span before 110,000 years ago until about 50,000 years coexisted .

This assumption is supported that the gene flow was only in one direction, among other things by a study, according to which the probability is fundamentally much higher that genes from one local population to another population, if this other population in the settlement area of ​​the resident population invades than vice versa. In 2012, the period of possible gene flow was narrowed down to 65,000 to 47,000 years ago.

According to the authors of the study, the extent of the gene flow from Neanderthals to Homo sapiens is between one and four percent of the genome of today's non-African population (p. 721). At the same time, they expressed their astonishment that the gene flow in Europe was no greater than in Asia, although some fossils had been found in Europe that were cited by representatives of the “ mixture hypothesis ” as evidence for such a gene flow. They did not rule out that later migratory movements in connection with the spread of agriculture masked earlier gene flow. But it is also possible that - in contrast to the initial situation in the Middle East - relatively large populations of Homo sapiens already encountered Neanderthals in Europe ; a small amount of gene flow is no longer detectable today. According to model calculations, the “ crossing rate ” - based on the number of newborns who will later father their own offspring - was less than two percent, probably even less than one percent.

In 2011, a Canadian research group interpreted the similarities of a section of the X chromosome in populations outside Africa with that of the Neanderthals, with a simultaneous lack of such matches in African populations, as further evidence of a gene flow from Neanderthals to Homo sapiens .

However, this interpretation was contradicted in 2012 on the basis of a model calculation and a different interpretation of the genetic findings was presented: The greater similarity of the genome of the non-African populations of Homo sapiens with the genome of Neanderthals could also be explained by the fact that a population of Homo sapiens happened to have left Africa , which still had a particularly great genetic similarity to the common ancestor of anatomically modern humans and the Neanderthals. Another model calculation, however, came to the opposite result: Its authors argued that it was very unlikely that archaic population structures in Africa could explain the genetic similarities between Neanderthals and anatomically modern people outside of Africa.

At the beginning of 2014, further refined analyzes of the gene flow from Neanderthals to Homo sapiens were published. According to a publication by authors from Harvard Medical School , the proportion of the Neanderthal genome in the autosomes of Europeans living today is 1.15% and in those of East Asians 1.38%, whereas in the X chromosomes of both population groups it is only around 0.20 % up to 0.30%, i.e. only around a fifth of the proportion in the autosomes. From this it was concluded that - comparable to other mammals - the fertility of the male half-breeds was reduced. Alleles derived from Neanderthals were found particularly frequently in regions of the genome of people living today that are associated with the coding of keratin fibers ; possibly - it was speculated - these alleles made it easier for anatomically modern humans to adapt to the non-African habitat. These findings were supported by a study by a second, independent research group from the University of Washington ; Their analyzes also provided indications of a reduced fitness of the mixed race. In addition, the influence of Neanderthal alleles on the formation of keratins was explained in this study: According to this, the BNC2 gene on chromosome 9 is involved in the pigmentation of the skin and is particularly associated with the (relatively light) pigmentation of Europeans. Finally, another independent study showed that the Y chromosome of the (male) Neanderthal man has a mutated gene that can lead to an immune response in pregnant women, which increases the likelihood of a miscarriage.

See also


Historical research
Current research


Web links

Commons : Homo neanderthalensis  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Neanderthals  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Scientific representations
  • LVR LandesMuseum Bonn : publicly accessible exhibition site of the Neanderthal fossils from the Neanderthal.
  • : Website of the Neanderthal Museum not far from where the Neanderthal man from the Neanderthal was found. In the museum, visitors measure a reconstruction of human evolution.
Popular representations

Individual evidence

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This article was added to the list of excellent articles on August 26, 2012 in this version .