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11.4: Neanderthals

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    One particularly well-known population of archaic Homo sapiens are the Neanderthals, named after the site where they were first discovered in the Neander Valley, or “thal” in German, located near Dusseldorf, Germany. Popularly known as the stereotypical “cavemen” examined at the outset of this chapter, recent research is upending long-held beliefs about this group of archaics. As mentioned in the introduction, Neanderthals have long been thought to be dumb brutes who were, behaviorally speaking, not much different from apes. However, today, scientists agree that Neanderthal behavior was increasingly complex and nuanced, far beyond what was exhibited by even other archaic Homo sapiens discussed throughout this chapter. We implore you to forget the image of the iconic caveman and have an open mind when exploring the fossil evidence of the Neanderthals.

    It is important to understand why Neanderthals are typically separated from other archaic Homo sapiens. Unlike the rest of archaic Homo sapiens, Neanderthals are easily defined and identified in many ways. There is a clear geographic boundary of where Neanderthals lived: western Europe, the Middle East, and western Asia. The time period for when Neanderthals lived is widely accepted as between 150,000 and 35,000 years ago. Additionally, Neanderthals have a unique and distinct cluster of physical characteristics. While a few aspects of Neanderthals are less clear cut and are shared among some archaic Homo sapiens, such as the types of tools they created and used, most attributes of Neanderthals, both anatomically and behaviorally, are unique to them.

    As mentioned previously, the geographic distribution of Neanderthals is very specific. Neanderthal fossils, thus far, have been found across a narrow latitude of western Europe, the Middle East, and western Asia. No Neanderthal fossils have ever been discovered outside of this area, including Africa. This is a bit curious, as other archaics seem to have adapted in Africa and then migrated elsewhere, but Neanderthals’ regional association makes sense in light of the environment to which they were best adapted. While Neanderthals lived in different ecosystems, including temperate environments, they were very well adapted to extreme cold weather and their geographic distribution includes what would have been some of the coldest habitable locations at the time of their existence.

    Neanderthals lived during some of the coldest times during the last Ice Age and at far northern latitudes. This means Neanderthals were living very close to the glacial edge, and not in a more temperate region of the globe, like some of their archaic Homo sapiens relatives. Their range likely expanded and contracted along with European glacial events, moving into the Middle East during glacial events when Europe became even cooler, and when the animals they hunted would have moved for the same reason. During interglacials, when Europe warmed a bit, Neanderthals and their prey would have been able to move back into Western Europe.

    Many of the Neanderthals’ defining physical features are more extreme and robust versions of traits seen in other archaic Homo sapiens, clustered in this single population (Figure 11.6). Brain size is one of the Neanderthal features that continues to follow the same patterns as seen with other archaic Homo sapiens, namely an enlargement of the cranial capacity. The average Neanderthal brain size is around 1,500 cc, and the range for Neanderthal brains can extend to upwards of 1,700 cc. The majority of the increase in the brain occurs in the occipital region, or the back part of the brain, resulting in a skull that has a large cranial capacity with a distinctly long and low shape that is slightly wider than previous forms at far back of the skull. Modern humans have a brain size comparable to that of Neanderthals; however, our brain expansion occurred in the frontal region of the brain, not the back, as in Neanderthal brains. This difference is also the main reason why Neanderthals lack the vertical forehead that modern humans possess. They simply did not need an enlarged forehead, because their brain expansion occurred in the rear of their brain. Due to cranial expansion, the back of the Neanderthal skull is less angular (as compared to Homo erectus) and is more rounded, a feature similar to that of modern Homo sapiens.

    Another feature that continues the trend noted in previous hominins is the enlargement of the nasal region, or the nose. Neanderthal noses are large and have a wide nasal aperture, which is the opening for the nose. While the nose is only made up of two bones, the nasals, the true size of the nose can be determined by looking at other facial features, including the nasal aperture, and the angle of the nasal and maxillary, or facial bones. In Neanderthals, these indicate a large, forward-projecting nose that appears to be pulled forward away from the rest of the face. This feature is further emphasized by the backward-sloping nature of the cheekbones, or the zygomatic arches. The unique shape and size of the Neanderthal nose is often characterized by the term midfacial prognathism—a jutting out of the middle portion of the face, or nose. This is in sharp contrast to the prognathism exhibited by other hominins, who exhibited prognathism, or the jutting out, of their jaws.

    The teeth of the Neanderthals follow a similar pattern seen in the archaic Homo sapiens, which is an overall reduction in size, especially as compared to the extremely large teeth seen in the genus Australopithecus. However, while the teeth have continued to reduce, the jaw size does not keep pace, leaving Neanderthals with an interesting situation. Their jaw is oversized for their teeth, leaving a gap between their final molar and the end of their jaw. This gap is called a retromolar gap.

    The projecting occipital bone present in other archaic Homo sapiens is also more prominent in Neanderthals, extending the trend found in archaics. Among Neanderthals, this projection of bone is easily identified by its bun shape on the back of the skull and is known as an occipital bun. This projection appears quite similar to a dinner roll in size and shape. Its purpose, if any, remains unknown.

    Continuing the archaic Homo sapiens trend, Neanderthal brow ridges are prominent but somewhat smaller in size than those of Homo erectus and earlier archaic Homo sapiens. In Neanderthals, the brow ridges are also often slightly less arched than those of other archaic Homo sapiens.

    In addition to extending traits present in archaic Homo sapiens, Neanderthals possess several distinct traits. Neanderthal infraorbital foramina, the holes in the maxillae or cheek bones through which blood vessels pass, are notably enlarged compared to other hominins. The Neanderthal postcrania are also unique in that they demonstrate increased robusticity in terms of the thickness of bones and body proportions that show a barrel-shaped chest and short, stocky limbs, as well as increased musculature. These body portions are seen across the spectrum of Neanderthals—in men, women, and children.

    Many of the unique traits that Neanderthals possess can be attributed to adaptation to the extreme cold environments in which they often lived. Together explained as cold adaptations, these traits are thought to be a response to the cold, dry environments in which Neanderthals lived and which certainly exerted strong selective forces. For example, Bergmann’s and Allen’s Rules dictate that an increased body mass and short, stocky limbs are common in animals that live in cold conditions. Neanderthals match the predictions of Bergmann’s and Allen’s Rules perfectly. In addition, the Neanderthal skull also exhibits adaptations to the cold. Neanderthals’ large infraorbital foramina allow for larger blood vessels, increasing the volume of blood that is found closest to the skin, which helps to keep the skin warmer. The midfacial prognathism present in Neanderthals indicates that Neanderthals would have had a large nose. This enlarged nose may also have been beneficial to have in cold weather due to longer nasal passages and mucus membranes for cold air to travel through before reaching the lungs. It is very uncomfortable and challenging to breathe and exert oneself in exceptionally cold, dry air. The more time the air spends in the mucus membranes, the warmer and more moist the air will be before it reaches the lungs. The Neanderthals’ larger nose has long been thought to have acted as a humidifier, easing physical exertion in their climate, although research on this particular trait continues to be studied and debated.

    Table 11.4.1: Neanderthal distinguishing features. This table outlines key features associated with Neanderthals.

    Distinct Neanderthal Anatomical Features

    Brain Size

    1,500 cc average

    Skull Shape

    Long and low

    Brow Ridge Size


    Nose Size

    Large, with midfacial prognathism


    Reduced, but large jaw size, creating retromolar gap

    Occipital Region

    Enlarged occipital region, occipital bun

    Other Unique Cranial Features

    Large infraorbital foramina

    Postcranial Features

    Short and stocky body, increased musculature, barrel-shaped chest

    image9-1-1.pngFigure \(\PageIndex{1}\): La Ferrassie 1 Neanderthal is representative of many classic Neanderthal features including a large brain, large nose, large infraorbital foramina, large brow ridges, and robust postcrania.

    In summary, Neanderthal characteristics are a distinct cluster of features, some of which were apparent in previous hominins and others that were unique. Additionally, it is clear that Neanderthals were specially adapted to a particular environment—a very cold one. A classic example of a Neanderthal with all of the characteristics mentioned above is the La Ferrassie 1 Neanderthal, from France. The skeleton is near complete, which is not necessarily unique among Neanderthal fossils as many partially complete remains have been found, but it does provide us with a lot of information. The La Ferrassie 1 Neanderthal, who was male, had a brain size of around 1640cc and had an extremely large nose and infraorbital foramina. Additionally, the brow ridges are marked in size, and the overall skeleton is robust (Figure 11.7).

    What are the benefits or the potential challenges Neanderthals could have faced for being highly specialized to one particular environment, when we know their environment and climate were in flux?

    Neanderthal Culture and Lifeways

    One key Neanderthal adaptation was their cultural innovations. Cultural innovation is a key way that hominins adapt to their environment. As you recall, the culture of Homo erectus was marked by the development of a bifacial tool, the Acheulean handaxe, which allowed them differential access to meat on animal carcasses when compared to their predecessors. For Homo erectus, the Acheulean handaxe allowed more efficient removal of meat and possibly calculated scavenging. The increase in their body and brain size, along with their more effective tools, allowed them to track predators and snatch their kills sometimes even before the predators themselves had even fed.

    Acheulean tools represent a significant increase in complexity over Oldowan tools, as they required more time, effort, and skill to shape. Acheulean handaxes were not only worked on two sides, they shared a common shape, which required forethought and advanced planning by their makers. Homo erectus would have had a mental template for the desired outcome and, with practice, these tools were likely made quite quickly and could have been made by most individuals. While these tools were a significant step forward in tool production, they were not intended to be kept. Homo erectus discarded the tools after use and treated them as a disposable item.

    In contrast, Neanderthal tools mark a significant innovation both in tool-making technique and their use. Known as Mousterian tools, after the Le Moustier site in southwest France, the Neanderthal’s toolkit was truly that—a set of tools with specific applications and unique forms for each desired purpose. Mousterian tools were significantly smaller, thinner, and lighter than Acheulean handaxes and formed a true toolkit. The materials used for Mousterian tools were of higher quality, which allowed for both more precise toolmaking and tool reworking when the tools broke or dulled after frequent reuse. The use of higher-quality materials is also indicative of required forethought and planning to acquire them for tool manufacture. It is noteworthy that the Neanderthals, unlike Homo erectus, saved and reused their tools, rather than making new ones each time a tool was needed.

    image10-1-1.pngFigure \(\PageIndex{2}\): The Levallois technique is used to create Mousterian tools. The multistep process involves preparing the core, or raw material, in a specific way that will yield flakes that are roughly uniform in dimension. The flakes are then turned into individual tools.

    Mousterian tools are constructed in a very unique manner, utilizing the Levallois technique (Figure 11.8), named after the first finds of tools made with this technique, which were discovered in the Levallois-Perret suburb of Paris, France. The Levallois technique is a multistep process that requires preparing the core, or raw material, in a specific way that will yield flakes that are roughly uniform in dimension. The flakes are then turned into individual tools. The preparation of the core is akin to peeling a potato or carrot with a vegetable peeler—when peeling vegetables, you want to remove the skin in long, regular strokes, so that you are taking off the same amount of the vegetable all the way around. In the same way, the Levallois technique requires removing all edges of the cortex, or outside surface of the raw material, in a circle before removing the lid. The flakes, which will eventually be turned into the individual tools, can then be removed from the core. The potential yield of tools from one core would be many, as seen in Figure 11.9, compared to all previous tool-making processes, in which one core yielded a single tool.

    image20-3.pngFigure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Levallois core and flakes for tool production. Using this technique, one core is used to produce many flakes, each of which can be turned into a tool.

    Neanderthal tools were used for a variety of purposes. They would have constructed a tool for each specific task they needed to complete, such as cutting, butchering, woodworking or antler working, and hide working. Additionally, because the Mousterian tools were lighter than previous stone tools, Neanderthals could haft, or attach the tool onto a handle, as the stone would not have been too heavy. Neanderthals attached small stone blades onto short wood or antler handles to make knives or other small weapons, as well as attached larger blades onto longer shafts to make spears. New research examining tar-covered stones and black lumps at several Neanderthal sites in Europe suggests that Neanderthals may have been making tar by distilling it from birch tree bark, which could have been used to glue the stone tool onto its handle. If Neanderthals were, in fact, manufacturing tar to act as glue, this would predate modern humans in Africa making tree resin or similar adhesives by nearly 100,000 years! While research on specific applications continues, from just this brief discussion, it should be clear that Neanderthal tool manufacturing was much more complex than previous tool-making efforts, requiring skill and patience to carry out.

    With their more sophisticated suite of tools, Neanderthals were better armed for hunting than previous hominins and had very robust bodies with larger muscles. The animal remains in Neanderthal sites show that unlike earlier archaic Homo sapiens, Neanderthals were very effective hunters who were able to kill their own prey, rather than relying on scavenging. Oftentimes, this included very large animals like deer, horses, and bovids (relatives of the cow). In fact, isotopes from Neanderthal bones show that meat was a primary and significant component of their diet, similar to that seen in carnivores like wolves (Bocherens et al. 1999). Of course, Neanderthals’ diet varied according to the specific environment in which they lived, but according to Christoph Wiẞin and colleagues (2015), meat comprised up to 80% of their diet.

    Though more sophisticated than the tools of earlier hominins, the Neanderthal spear was not the kind of weapon that would have been thrown; rather, it would have been used in a jabbing fashion (Churchill 1998; Kortlandt 2002). This may have required Neanderthals to hunt in groups rather than individually, and it almost certainly meant that they would have had to approach their prey quite closely. Remember, the animals living with Neanderthals were very large-bodied due to their adaptations to cold weather. In addition to large bovids, prey included ibex, seals, rabbits, and pigeons. Though red meat was a critical component of the Neanderthal diet, evidence shows that at times they also ate limpets, mussels, and pine nuts. Tartar examined from Neanderthal teeth in Iraq and Belgium reveal that plant material including wheat, barley, date palms, and tubers were also eaten by Neanderthals and were cooked to make them palatable.

    While the new, close-range style of hunting used by Neanderthals was effective, it also had some major consequences. Many Neanderthal skeletons have been found with significant injuries, which could have caused paralysis or severely limited their mobility. Many of the injuries are to the head, neck, or upper-body. Thomas Berger and Erik Trinkaus (1995) conducted a statistical comparative analysis of Neanderthal injuries compared to those recorded in modern day workers’ compensation reports and found that the closest match was between Neanderthal injuries and those of rodeo workers. Rodeo professionals have a high rate of head and neck injuries that are similar to the Neanderthals’ injuries. What do Neanderthals and rodeo workers have in common? They were both getting very close to large, strong animals, and at times their encounters might have gone awry.

    The extensive injuries sustained by Neanderthals are evident in many fossil remains. Shanidar 1 (Figure 11.10), an adult male found at the Shanidar site in northern Iraq and dating to 45,000 ya, has a lifetime of injuries recorded in his bones. Shanidar 1 sustained—and healed from—an injury to his face that would have likely caused blindness. His lower right arm was missing and his right humerus shows severe atrophy, likely due to disuse. This pattern has been interpreted to indicate a substantial injury that required or otherwise resulted in amputation or wasting away of the lower arm. Additionally, Shanidar 1 suffered from severe arthritis in his feet and bony growths in his inner ear that would have significantly impaired his hearing. He also exhibited extensive anterior tooth wear, matching the pattern of wear found among modern populations who use their teeth as a tool. Rather than an anomaly, the type of injuries evident in Shanidar 1 are similar to those found in many other Neanderthal fossils, revealing injuries likely sustained from hunting large mammals as well as demonstrating a long life of physical activity.

    Screen Shot 2020-09-18 at 1.02.06 PM.pngFigure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Like many other Neanderthals, Shanidar 1 has a lifetime of injuries recorded in his bones. Shanidar 1 sustained—and healed from—an injury to his face that would have likely caused blindness. His lower right arm was missing and his right humerus shows severe atrophy, likely due to disuse.

    The pattern of injuries is as significant as the fact that Shanidar 1 and other injured Neanderthals often show evidence of having survived their severe injuries. One of the earliest known Neanderthal discoveries—the one on whom misinformed analysis shaped the stereotype of the species for nearly a century—is the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal. The La Chapelle Neanderthal had a damaged eye orbit that likely caused blindness and suffered arthritis of the spine. He had also lost of most of his teeth, many of which he had lived without for so long that the mandibular and maxillary bones were partially reabsorbed due to lack of use. The La Chapelle Neanderthal was also thought to be at least in his mid-40s at death, an old age for the rough life of the Late Pleistocene, giving rise to his nickname, “the Old Man.” To have survived so long with so many injuries that obviously precluded successful large game hunting, he would have had to have been taken care of by others. Such caretaking behavior is also evident in the survival of other seriously injured Neanderthals, such as Shanidar 1. Long thought to be a hallmark human characteristic, taking care of the injured and elderly, to the extent of even preparing or pre-chewing food for those without teeth, indicates strong social ties among Neanderthals.

    The care expressed in taking care of the sick or injured may have been expressed upon death as well. Full Neanderthal skeletons are not uncommon in the fossil record, and many of these skeletons were so well preserved due to having been placed in deliberate burials. These burials appear intentional, as the graves are dug down a bit, and the bodies found in the graves are in specific positions quite distinct from the natural position the body automatically goes into after death during rigor mortis. Neanderthal burials are often in a flexed position, or fetal position. Discoveries of pollen in a grave at the Shanidar site in the 1960s led scientists to think that perhaps Neanderthals had deliberately placed flowering plants in the grave, an indication of ritual ceremony or spirituality so common in modern humans. But future investigations have raised some doubt about this conclusion. The pollen may have been brought in by burrowing rodents. Claims of grave goods or other ornamentation in burials are similarly debated, although possible.

    Some tantalizing evidence for symbolism, and debatably, ritual, is the frequent occurrence of natural pigments, such as ochre (red) and manganese dioxide (black) in Neanderthal sites. Such pigments could have been used for art, like some of the spectacular cave paintings produced by modern humans who lived in this area after the Neanderthals. However, how these pigments were actually used by Neanderthals themselves is unclear, as there is very little evidence of art or paintings in Mousterian sites. One exception may be the recent discovery in Spain of a perforated shell that appears to be painted with an orange pigment, which may be some of the best evidence of Neanderthal art and jewelry. However, many pigments also have properties that make them good emulsifiers in adhesive (like for attaching a stone tool to a wooden handle) or useful in tanning hides. So the presence of pigment may or may not be associated with symbolic thought, but it at the very least shows a technological sophistication beyond that exhibited by earlier archaic hominins and clearly counters the old stereotypes of Neanderthals as dumb, thoughtless brutes.

    The more recent time period in which Neanderthals lived and extensive excavations completed across Europe allow for a much more complete archaeological record from this time period. Additionally, the increased cultural complexity such as complex tools and ritual behaviors expressed by Neanderthals left a more detailed record than previous hominins. Intentional burials enhanced preservation of the dead and potentially associated ritual behaviors. Such evidence allows for a more complete and nuanced picture of this species.

    image16-7.pngFigure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Artistic reconstruction of Neanderthals.

    Additional analyses are possible on many Neanderthal finds, due to increased preservation of bone, the amount of specimens that have been uncovered, and the recency in which Neanderthals lived. These additional studies include the examination of dental calculus and even DNA analysis. While limited, some samples of Neanderthal DNA have been successfully extracted and analyzed. Studies thus far have identified specific genetic markers that show some Neanderthals were light-skinned and probably red-haired with light eyes. Genetic analyses, different than the typical hominin reconstruction done with earlier species, allow scientists to further investigate soft tissue markers of Neanderthals and other more recent hominin species. These studies and Neanderthal cultural behavior have given scientists a wealth of information to study and offer striking conclusions regarding Neanderthal traits, their physical appearance, and their culture, as reflected in these artists’ reconstructions (Figure 11.11).

    The Neanderthals’ more complicated behavior likely stems, in part, from their larger brains. Evidence shows that raw materials used by Neanderthals came from distances as far away as 100 km. This could indicate a variety of things regarding Neanderthal behavior, including a limited trade network with other Neanderthal groups, or simply a large area scoured by Neanderthals when collecting raw materials. Additionally, we know that Neanderthals lived in groups and may have relied on their group members for survival. Shanidar 1 and the “Old Man at La Chapelle” would have struggled to acquire and consume food on their own, strongly suggesting that they may have been assisted by relatives of other group members. In other nonhuman primates (like chimpanzees) and earlier hominins, injured individuals would have been left on their own, to either survive or perish.

    The impressive cultural innovations and behavioral expansions seen in the Neanderthals would have required at least a basic form of communication in order to function, which suggests to many researchers that Neanderthals spoke. The challenge with this line of research is that speech, itself, of course is not preserved, so indirect evidence must be used to support this conclusion. It is thought that Neanderthals would have possessed some basic speech, as evidenced from a variety of sources, including throat anatomy and genetic evidence. There is only one bone in the human body that could demonstrate if a hominin was able to speak, or produce clear vocalizations like modern humans, and that is the hyoid, a U-shaped bone that is found in the throat and is associated with the ability to precisely control the vocal cords. Very few hyoid bones have been found in the archaeological record; however, a few have been uncovered in Neanderthal burials. The shape of the Neanderthal hyoid is nearly identical to that of modern humans, pointing to the likelihood that they had the same vocal capabilities as modern humans. Genetic evidence has been debated concerning the likelihood of speech. Geneticists have uncovered a possible mutation, the FOXP2 gene, that has been linked to the ability to speak and that both modern humans and Neanderthals possess. However, some scientists counter those findings, indicating that the study’s sample size was too small to make sweeping conclusions that the FOXP2 gene is what accounts for human or Neanderthal speech. Finally, scientists have also pointed to the increasingly complex cultural behavior of Neanderthals as a sign that symbolic communication, likely through speech, would have been the only way to pass down the skills needed to make, for example, a Levallois blade or to position a body correctly for intentional burial.

    Neanderthal Intelligence

    One of the enduring questions about Neanderthals centers on their intelligence, specifically in comparison to modern humans. Brain volume indicates that Neanderthals certainly had a large brain, but it continues to be debated if Neanderthals were of equal intelligence to modern humans. Brain volume, cultural complexity, tool use, and compassion toward their kind all point to an increase in intellect among Neanderthals when compared to previous hominins.

    However, there have been several studies that seem to indicate that while Neanderthals did have a large brain volume and were far more advanced than their previous relatives, they may not have been nearly as intelligent as or may have even lacked the intellectual abilities possessed by modern humans. Euluned Pearce and colleagues, from the University of Oxford, noted that based on cranial endocasts, the frontal lobe of Neanderthals and modern humans are almost identical. However, Neanderthal faces and other cranial features were larger. Neanderthals possessed larger eye sockets, and the larger eyes they held would have helped Neanderthals see in the low light levels common for the latitudes at which they lived. Because of the larger eye sockets, the visual cortex—the portion of the brain involved in processing visual information—would have had to have been enlarged, as well. This would have left Neanderthals with less neural tissue for other components of the brain, including those that would have aided them in dealing with expansive social networks, one of the differences that it has been suggested existed between Neanderthals and modern humans.

    New research is suggesting additional differences between Neanderthal brains and our own. Research being conducted by geneticist John Blangero and his team from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute are examining genes involved in certain diseases among modern populations. His team has also looked at brain structure and function. Comparing data from the Neanderthal genome against MRI data from his modern study participants, Blangero and his team discovered that some Neanderthal brain components were very different, and smaller, than those in the modern sample. These areas include decreased gray matter surface area, a smaller amygdala, and less white matter. These three regions are important in the processing of information and controlling emotion and motivation, as well as overall brain connectivity. In short, as Blangero stated at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 2014, “Neanderthals were certainly cognitively adept,” although their specific abilities may have differed from modern humans’ in key areas (qtd. in Wong 2015), a point echoed in other recent genetic studies comparing Neanderthal and anatomically modern human brains (el-Showk 2019).

    Finally, scientists are fairly certain that Neanderthal brain development after birth was not the same as that of modern humans. After birth, anatomically modern Homo sapiens babies go through a critical period of brain expansion and cognitive development. It appears that Neanderthal babies’ brains did not follow the same developmental pattern. This could also be related to the length of the period of childhood. Modern humans enjoy an extended period of childhood, which, among many things, allows children to engage in imaginative play and develop creativity. Child development studies indicate that children who have extended, undirected play opportunities will be better off academically and socially later in life than their peers who had less play opportunities. Based on their anatomical developments, it appears that Neanderthals had a limited childhood. It has been suggested that this limited time for play and developing a creative mind might have limited adult creativity and how successful they were as a species, in the long run.

    The exact nature of Neanderthal intelligence remains under investigation, however. Some studies disagree with the idea that Neanderthal intelligence had limitations compared to our own, noting that there is extensive evidence showing that Neanderthals displayed limb asymmetry. Their tools also have wear marks indicating that they were hand-dominant. It has been established that favoring the right hand is one key marker between modern humans and chimpanzees, and that handedness is likely also related to language development, in the form of bilateral brain development. That Neanderthals likely were hand-dominant as well suggests that they at least had many of the preconditions for human speech and likely experienced similar bilateral brain development to our own.

    In addition to cut marks on animal bones, there are marks on Neanderthal teeth that demonstrate hand dominance. Neanderthal upper incisors, or front teeth, show not only wear from using their teeth when preparing hides or cordage but also cut marks that were created by using their teeth as a third limb when eating. The “stuff-and-cut method,” noted by David Frayer, would have seen the Neanderthal hold a piece of meat in their teeth and pull it taut with one hand, and then, using their other hand, their dominant one, cut meat off the slab. When looking at 17 Neanderthals and their tooth wear, only two do not show markings made by a right-hand dominant individual. This research suggests another similarity between Neanderthal and modern human brains and their associated intelligence.

    This page titled 11.4: Neanderthals is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Beth Shook, Katie Nelson, Kelsie Aguilera, & Lara Braff, Eds. (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.