P200 Introduction to Prehistoric Archaeology
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Neanderthals: last of the archaic Homo sapiens
The last of the archaic populations of Homo lived in W. Europe, E. Europe and Near East after 200,000bp,surviving until at least 32,000 bp (the youngest date associated with a neanderthal fossil). Examples of sitesdiscussed in text and lecture/video: Gibralter, La Ferrassie, Shanidar, Kebara. There is a current,unresolved debate about whether neanderthals were human enough to be included in our own species (Homo sapiens neandertalensis) or put into their own species (Homo neanderthalensis).Their anatomy suggests that they were direct descendents of earlier populations that lived at sites such as Atapuerca Sima de los Huesos, in Spain, or the site of Arago Cave, in France.
- robust, muscular bodies
- thick bones (many show physical injuries)
- distinct features on skull (brow ridge, occipital bun, overall shape)
- prominent faces, large nose, heavily worn front teeth
- vocal anatomy debate: basicranium suggests neanderthals could only produce limited range of sounds, but hyoid bone from Kebara skeleton looks like modern human
- very big brains (1400-1750cc)
Genetic question: recent DNA testing of ancient DNA extracted from a neanderthal bone has shown a large number of differences from modern humans, at least at one genetic locus, suggesting to the authors that neanderthals would have been a distinct species that last shared a common ancestor with modern humans >600,000 years ago.
Because they had relative brain sizes just as large, or larger than any modern human, it is interesting to ask how intelligent their behavior was... e.g. how skilled the neanderthals were technologically, or if they had complex social behaviors, or sophisticated cultural traditions. The traditional brutish images of neanderthals were based on poor reconstructions by Marcelin Boule.
- deliberate burial of some dead (e.g. Kebara, Shanidar)
- survival of crippled individuals suggests altruistic care (e.g. Shanidar)
- adapted to tough environmental conditions in W Europe
- associated with Mousterian technology
- tools like scrapers and points made by retouching flakes
- Levallois core technology... a "mental template" (design) to produce "designer flakes"
- hafting flake tools onto handles or shafts
- ritual? no art, but possible bone flute found (site in Yugoslavia)
- evidence for hunting and land-use
Kebara Cave, Israel:
Neanderthal burial (symbolic behavior?)
Thermoluminescence dates ~ 60,000 bp
Long sequence of Middle Paleolithic technology: little change through time
Hearths suggest repeated occupation
Subsistence: effective hunters, coping with changing environment (see faunal chart)
WWW links to descriptions and images of neanderthal Fossils and Archaeology:
- Morph a neanderthal face!
- Award-winning Neanderthal Museum, near Dusseldorf, Germany
- Neanderthal news brief
- Ancient Neanderthal DNA (article 1, article 2, photos of DNA researcher Mark Stoneking)
- Comparative DNA analysis of modern populations
- Fossil Hominids at the Talk_Origins archive
- Hominid Photo Gallery (examine pictures of fossils)
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Last updated: 28 February, 2000
Copyright Jeanne Sept 2000 : do not cite without permission