Neanderthaler, n.
/nee an"deuhr thawl', -tawl', -tahl'; nay ahn"deuhr tahl'/, adj.
1. of or pertaining to Neanderthal man.
2. (often l.c.) Informal. primitive, unenlightened, or reactionary; culturally or intellectually backward.
4. (often l.c.) Informal.
a. an unenlightened or ignorant person; barbarian.
b. a reactionary; a person with very old-fashioned ideas.
Also, Neandertal /nee an"deuhr tawl', -tahl'; nay ahn"deuhr tahl'/ (for defs. 1, 3).
[1860-65; after Neanderthal, valley in Germany, near Düsseldorf, where evidence of Neanderthal man was first found]

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Species of the genus Homo that inhabited much of Europe and the Mediterranean lands in the late Pleistocene Epoch, с 100,000–35,000 years ago.

The name derives from the discovery in 1856 of remains in a cave above Germany's Neander Valley. Some scholars designate the species as Homo neanderthalensis and do not consider them direct human ancestors. Others regard them as a late archaic form of Homo sapiens that was absorbed into modern human populations in some areas while simply dying out in others. Neanderthals were short, stout, and powerful. Cranial capacity equaled or surpassed that of modern humans, though their braincases were long, low, and wide. Their limbs were heavy, but they seem to have walked fully erect and had hands as capable as those of modern humans. They were cave dwellers who used fire, wielded stone tools and wooden spears to hunt animals, buried their dead, and cared for their sick or injured. They probably used language and may have practiced a primitive form of religion. See also Mousterian industry.

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also spelled  Neandertal 
  the most recent archaic humans, who emerged between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago and were replaced by early modern humans between 35,000 and 28,000 years ago. Neanderthals inhabited Eurasia from the Atlantic regions of Europe eastward to Central Asia and from as far north as present-day Belgium southward to the Mediterranean and southwest Asia. Similar human populations lived at the same time in eastern Asia and Africa. Because Neanderthals lived in a land of abundant limestone caves, which preserve bones well and where there has been a long history of prehistoric research, they are better known than any other archaic human group. Consequently, they have become the archetypal “cavemen.” The name Neanderthal (or Neandertal) derives from the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf, Germany, where quarrymen unearthed portions of a human skeleton from a cave in 1856.

The fossil evidence
      The remains from the Neander Valley consist of 16 pieces, which were scientifically described shortly after their discovery. Immediately there was disagreement as to whether the bones represented an archaic and extinct human form or an abnormal modern human. The former view was shown to be correct in 1886, when two Neanderthal skeletons associated with Middle Paleolithic (Paleolithic Period) stone tools and bones of extinct animals were discovered in a cave at Spy, Belgium.

 From shortly after the Spy discovery to about 1910, a series of Neanderthal skeletons were discovered in western and central Europe. Using those skeletons as a basis, scholars reconstructed the Neanderthals as semihuman, lacking a full upright posture and being somewhat less intelligent than modern humans. According to that view, the Neanderthals were intermediate between modern humans and the apes, as no older human forms were then generally recognized. They were also considered to be too different from modern humans to be their ancestors. Only after World War II were the errors in this perception of Neanderthals recognized, and the Neanderthals have since come to be viewed as quite close evolutionarily to modern humans. This view has been reflected in the frequent inclusion of the Neanderthals within the species Homo sapiens, usually as a distinct subspecies, H. sapiens neanderthalensis; more recently they have often been classified as a different but closely related species, H. neanderthalensis. Neanderthal skeletons have been found in caves and shelters across Europe, in southwest Asia, and eastward to Uzbekistan in Central Asia, providing abundant skeletal remains and associated archaeological material for understanding these prehistoric humans. The Neanderthals are now known from several hundred individuals, represented by remains varying from isolated teeth to virtually complete skeletons.

Neanderthal origins and anatomy
 The fossil evidence for the few hundred thousand years leading up to the time of the Neanderthals shows a gradual decrease in the size and frequency of anatomic characteristics of H. erectus (Homo erectus) and an increase in features more representative of Neanderthals. A gradual emergence of the Neanderthals from earlier regional populations of archaic humans can be inferred, probably across their entire geographic range. The changes between Neanderthal ancestors and the Neanderthals themselves highlight their characteristics. Brain size gradually increased to reach modern human volumes relative to body mass, although Neanderthal brains and braincases tended to be somewhat longer and lower than those of modern humans. Neanderthal faces remained large and especially long, similar to those of their ancestors, and they retained browridges and a projecting dentition and nose and had a receding chin. Their chewing teeth (premolars and molars) were small like those of early modern humans, and their chewing muscles and cheek regions had shrunk accordingly. Their incisor and canine teeth, however, remained large, like those of their ancestors, indicating their continued use as a vise or third hand.

 The bodies of the Neanderthals changed little from those of their ancestors. They retained broad shoulders, extremely muscular upper limbs, large chests, strong and fatigue-resistant legs, and broad, strong feet. There is nothing in their limb anatomies to indicate less dexterity than modern humans or any inability to walk efficiently. The details of their hand bones, however, do suggest greater emphasis on power rather than precision grips. All of these features appear to have been maintained from their ancestors.

 The Neanderthals differed in facial appearance from other archaic humans of East Asia and Africa, primarily in their retention of large incisors and canines, large noses, and long faces to support those teeth. In all archaic populations, facial massiveness and the size of premolars and molars were diminishing.

The fate of the Neanderthals
 The evolutionary fate of the Neanderthals is closely related to the origins of modern humans. Over the years, the Neanderthals have been portrayed as everything from an evolutionary dead end to the direct ancestors of modern European and western Asian populations. Fossil evidence indicates that modern humans first evolved in sub-Saharan Africa sometime prior to 100,000 years ago. Subsequently they spread northward after 40,000 years ago, displacing or absorbing local archaic human populations. As a result, the southwest Asian, Central Asian, and central European Neanderthals were absorbed to varying degrees into those spreading modern human populations and contributed genetically to the subsequent early modern human populations of those regions. Even in western Europe—a cul-de-sac where the transition to modern humans took place relatively late—there is fossil evidence for interbreeding between late Neanderthal and early modern humans.

 The anatomic changes between the Neanderthals and early modern humans involved largely a loss of the sturdiness characteristic of all archaic humans. Upper limbs became more gracile, although they were still very muscular by the standards of today's humans. The hand anatomy shifted to emphasize precision grips. Leg strength remained high, reflecting the mobility that characterized all Pleistocene (Pleistocene Epoch) hunting-and-gathering human populations. Front teeth became smaller and faces shortened, producing full chins and brows without ridges. Braincases became more elevated and rounded but not larger. Tool use and culture became more elaborate, but there are no anatomic features directly indicating that Neanderthals were smarter or less smart than other humans living at the time.

Neanderthal behaviour
 The behavioral patterns of the Neanderthals can be inferred from their anatomy in combination with their archaeological record. From their fossil remains and the debris they left behind at hundreds of sites they created—in cave entrances, rock shelters, and the open air—an accurate view of their way of life can be put together.

      The Neanderthals appear to have lived in relatively small groups, moving frequently on the landscape but reusing the same locations often. This is indicated by the small sizes of their sites and by the considerable depth of debris at a number of sites. The materials left behind show only minor variations among sites, suggesting that there was little planned differential use of the landscape—one site seemed to serve as well as another for most purposes.

 Most of their early tool kits are described as those of a Paleolithic (Paleolithic Period) technological complex called the Mousterian industry (or Middle Paleolithic industry). They include carefully made chipped stone tools (stone-tool industry) or broad flakes and simple spears made of wood. Although much of their stone technology was simple and crude, they occasionally made high-quality stone tools by first preparing the block of raw material so as to strike off symmetrical and relatively uniform stone flakes. They rarely used bone as a raw material, despite its abundance at their sites as kitchen debris, and few of their tools were hafted. The predominance of handheld thick stone flakes in their tool kits is associated with the strength of their arms and hands; such tools would have required great strength to perform the same tasks that modern humans accomplish with mechanically more-efficient implements and with less strength. It also fits with their tendency to use their front teeth as a vise, augmenting their hands and tools.

      This pattern changes after about 40,000 years ago, when Neanderthals in Europe began making a variety of more-advanced (Upper Paleolithic) tools from bone and stone that were frequently hafted. They also made personal ornaments. Although such sophistication is a late phenomenon for this group of archaic humans, it nonetheless shows clearly that they were fully capable of complex technological and social behaviours. This is all the more important as the earliest modern humans in southwest Asia left behind an archaeological record that is essentially indistinguishable from that of the Neanderthals.

      Information about the Neanderthal diet consists mostly of the animal bones that they left behind, but there is rare evidence that they ate nuts, tubers, and other plant foods when available. The animal bones they abandoned indicate that they were able to hunt (hunting) small and moderately large animals (goats, horses, and cattle) but were able to eat larger animals (e.g., rhinoceroses and mammoths) only by scavenging from natural deaths. The bone chemistry of European Neanderthals indicates that they were highly carnivorous and therefore must have been reasonably effective hunters. The animals exploited for food closely reflect what was available in the surrounding countryside. Consumption of fish, birds, or shellfish appears to have been rare. There is simply no evidence for any systematic harvesting of wild plant or animal resources—a characteristic of modern hunter-gatherers in similar environments.

      Neanderthals were the first human group to survive in northern latitudes during the cold (glacial) phases of the Pleistocene. They had domesticated fire, as evidenced by concentrations of charcoal and reddened earth found at their sites. Their hearths were simple and shallow, however, and must have cooled off quickly, providing little warmth through the night. Not surprisingly, Neanderthals exhibited anatomic adaptations to cold conditions, especially in Europe. Such features included large torsos and relatively short limbs, both of which maximized heat production and minimized heat loss.

      The Neanderthals exhibited some uniquely modern features despite their archaic anatomy and their less-efficient foraging systems (as compared with those of modern human hunter-gatherers). They were the first humans to bury (burial) their dead intentionally, usually in simple graves. This indicates social systems sufficiently elaborate to make some kind of formal disposal of the dead desirable. They also occasionally created simple forms of personal decoration (decorative art) such as pierced pendants. Creation of artistic objects became well-developed among late Neanderthals associated with early Upper Paleolithic technologies.

      The difficult existence of the Neanderthals is reflected in their high frequency of traumatic injury. The remains of all older individuals show signs of serious wounds, sprains, or breaks. There are abundant signs of nutritional deprivation during growth, more than 75 percent of individuals showing evidence of growth defects in their teeth. Life expectancy was low; few Neanderthals lived past 40 years of age, and almost none lived past 50. Still, they were able to keep severely injured individuals alive, in some cases for decades. This again reflects a more advanced social organization.

      The overall image of the Neanderthals, therefore, is one of archaic humans who shared a number of important characteristics with modern humans, including their large brains, manual dexterity and walking ability, and social sophistication. Like their archaic predecessors, however, their foraging systems were considerably less efficient than those of modern human hunter-gatherers, necessitating more-muscular limbs, greater endurance, and large front teeth. It was only with the emergence of modern humans that these archaic features disappeared, being superseded by more elaborate cultural behaviours and technologies.

Erik Trinkaus

Additional Reading

General works
Erik Trinkaus and Pat Shipman, The Neanderthals: Of Skeletons, Scientists, and Scandal (1993), recounts the history of Neanderthal research since the first discovery in 1856. Ian Tattersall, The Last Neanderthal: The Rise, Success, and Mysterious Extinction of Our Closest Human Relatives, rev. ed. (1999), examines the points of argument surrounding Neanderthals while defining them as a separate species rather than as a subspecies of Homo sapiens. Juan Luis Arsuaga, The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers, trans. by Andy Klatt (2002), emphasizes recent findings from Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain. Neanderthals on Trial (2001), directed by Mark J. Davis for the PBS television series NOVA, is a video documentary that presents evidence for both sides of the evolutionary debate: Neanderthals as our ancestors and Neanderthals as a separate group of humans.

Advanced works
Clive Finlayson, Neanderthals and Modern Humans: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective (2004), emphasizes the role of climate and ecological change in the extinction of Neanderthals. Paul Mellars, The Neanderthal Legacy: An Archaeological Perspective from Western Europe (1996), is a detailed presentation of Neanderthal archaeology and the behaviours that can be inferred from it.

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Universalium. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Neanderthal — ► NOUN 1) (also Neanderthal man) an extinct human living in ice age Europe between c.120,000 35,000 years ago. 2) informal an uncivilized or uncouth man. ORIGIN from Neanderthal, a region in Germany where remains of Neanderthal man were found …   English terms dictionary

  • Neanderthal — Ne*an der*thal , prop. n. 1. (Anthropol.) A neanderthal human being; a member of the race {Homo sapiens} neanderthalensis; as, neanderthals were shorter than modern humans. [PJC] 2. One resembling a neanderthal human; a troglodyte; a cave man.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Neanderthal — Ne*an der*thal , prop. a. 1. (Anthropol.) Of, pertaining to, or named from, the Neanderthal, a valley in the Rhine Province, in which were found parts of a skeleton of an early type of man. The skull is characterized by extreme dolichocephaly,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Neanderthal — V. «hombre de Neanderthal». * * * VER Neandertal …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Neanderthal — (adj.) 1861, in reference to a type of extinct hominid, from Ger. Neanderthal Neander Valley, name of a gorge near Düsseldorf where humanoid fossils were identified in 1856. The place name is from the Graecized form of Joachim Neumann (lit. new… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Neanderthal — [nē an′dərtäl΄nē an′dər thôl΄, nē an′dərtäl΄] adj. [Ger, lit., Neander valley (Ger thal, tal, valley, akin to DALE): after Joachim Neander (1650 80), Ger hymn writer] 1. designating, of, or from a valley in the Rhine Province, Germany 2.… …   English World dictionary

  • neanderthal — eanderthal adj. 1. uncouth in manners or appearance. Syn: boorish, clownish, loutish, oafish. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Neanderthal — Neanderthal, Thal bei Hochdahl im Kreise Elberfeld des Regierungsbezirks Düsseldorf (preußische Rheinprovinz); Marmorbrüche u. Schleifereien …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Neanderthal — → Neandertal …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • Neanderthal — For other uses, see Neanderthal (disambiguation). Neanderthal Temporal range: Middle to Late Pleistocene 0.6–0.03 Ma …   Wikipedia

  • Neanderthal — Das Neandertal (51° 13′ 36″  …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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