For the longest time, Neanderthals have been closely linked with the modern human in terms of characteristics and biological makeup. Several aspects of the Neanderthals life have been observed in humans including their way of doing things and the physical appearances. In fact, at some point, both Neanderthals and modern humans were thought to belong to the same species with different subspecies. However, subsequent theories observed that they only share a genus but belong to different species. Homo neanderthalensis were closely related to humans having about 99.7% of similar DNA and became extinct around 40,000 years ago (Ovchinnikov et al, 2000). In view of these theories, the relationship between Neanderthals and the modern human is a controversial subject in research and academia. Particularly, the extinction of the Neanderthals and the survival of the modern human pose serious questions regarding the differences and similarities between the two species or subspecies. In addition, archaeological and fossil records suggest significant similarities and differences between the two species.
There is considerable evidence in support of the relationship between Neanderthals and human beings from archaeological and fossil records. In addition, biological records paint a clear picture of the relationship including the genetic makeup of the DNA of the two species. The idea that humans originated from Africa and spread throughout the world forms some basis in support of this theory. The replacement of Neanderthal populations is however controversial with several theories attempting to explain the process of extinction. While some theorists suggest that humans did not interbreed with the Neanderthals while expanding their ranges geographically, others are of a different view. Indeed, some theorists have suggested that the two species interbred, albeit in small volumes with the resulting population having modern human domination (Van Andel & Davies, 2003). In fact, this view is supported by the evidence of similarities in DNAs of the two species. Despite these variations, both genetic and fossil evidence are in support of the view that the modern human originated from Africa.
One of the most striking similarities between the Neanderthals and the modern human is the physical appearance. However, the Neanderthals were stockier and shorter with a wider nose than the current modern human. In addition, they had prominent brow ridges and an angled cheekbone something that is significantly different from the modern human. Fossil records collected from deep in Africa have supported these views since the physical appearance is almost similar. In fact, there are claims that the relationship between the Neanderthals and the Homo sapiens was more like the racial differences among the modern human. The two species could thus interbreed to form viable offspring forming the basis of the subspecies theory. Scientists have also discovered that the Neanderthals did in fact use tools, despite suggestions that they were dumb brutes (Stringer & Gamble, 1993). Archaeological evidence supports the view of architecture among the Neanderthals as their work was a little less sophisticated that that of the human beings back then. Still, the Neanderthals buried their dead and controlled fire just like humans did thus pointing to a closer relationship between the two species. These similarities form the basis of the theory that the two species did share the earth at some time in the past. Nonetheless, their existence was in different spheres of the earth as they maintained no contact for a very long time.
The discovery of Neanderthal remnant skeletons has cemented theories regarding their close relationship with modern humans. It is not surprising that the Neanderthals lived in the valleys while the humans lived on raised grounds. Most of the fossils collected as originating from the Neanderthals have been sourced from valleys including in Germany and Asian countries. The difference in living conditions can be used to explain the reason why the Neanderthals became extinct while the modern human survived. It is assumed that the modern human was more advanced in hunting as they could plan before making the move, something that the Neanderthals could not. The high position within which the modern human lived gave them an upper advantage and enabled them to sight their targets in good time (Hopkinson, 2000). Fossils collected from different valleys have been observed to belong to ancient human relatives with more than four hundred bones of similar origin being collected. The differences in living habits of the Neanderthals present a significant difference to those of modern humans and explain the reasons for the extinction of one and the survival of the other.
The Neanderthals have often been cited as the cave men for their habit of living in caves. In fact, most of the fossils collected belonging to this species have been sourced from caves. This set of species lived during the Ice Age and this explains the reason for living in the caves. Studies have shown that the habit was an adaptation as the Neanderthals sought for shelter from the snow and ice in Eurasia. However, Neanderthals had striking similarities with humans including their origin from Africa. It is hypothesized that the Neanderthals migrated to Eurasia before the humans migrated in countries such as Germany and Britain. Also, it is estimated that the Neanderthals reached a peak population of about 70,000 people (Van Andel & Davies, 2003). However, other reports document a much lower population of about 4,000 female Neanderthals. Regardless of the exact population, the sharp difference in living environments explains the reason behind their extinction. Also, their physical structure has been touted as an adaptation to the harsh climatic conditions that were prevalent in Eurasia.
The stocky and short stature of the Neanderthals has been cited as significant difference from the stature of modern humans. Indeed, it was an evolutionary adaptation due to the harsh conditions and helped in the consolidation of heat. Consequently, the presence of a wider nose is also an adaptation that helped in humidifying air thus making it warmer for the Neanderthals. Although these differences and their explanations are debatable, the Neanderthals had other striking differences. For instance, the shape of the chest, fingers and pelvic areas have significant differences in appearance. The Neanderthal chest has been described as funnel-like with robust toes and a flaring pelvis. Despite these differences, the rate of brain growth was similar to that of humans thus raising suggestions that the Neanderthals were relatively intelligent in their dealings (Gunz et al, 2010). In fact, archaeological evidence drawn from different locations is in support of the intellectual capacity of the Neanderthals. For instance, they have been attributed with excellent carvings and stone works almost similar to the level of humans. Clearly, the physicality of the Neanderthals was different from the modern human but they still had an almost similar outline. Moreover, the intellectual capacity of the Neanderthals is also similar to that of the human beings as is documented in fossil and archaeological evidence.
The rate of growth has for some time being cited as a significant difference between the Neanderthals and the modern human with suggestions that the former grew at a faster rate and died younger. However, recent evidence suggests that both Neanderthals and humans matured at a similar rate that is slower to that of chimps. There is also a similarity in the nature of their social structure as they also lived in nuclear families. Although the Neanderthals did not form large social groupings as is the norm with humans, they did maintain a family unit after all (Stringer & Gamble, 1993). Recent discoveries of the skeletons of Neanderthals suggest that they took care of the sick family members just like humans do. Also, they took care of those who could not take care of themselves and even buried the dead, something that is strikingly similar to human behavior. Also, there is enough evidence to prove that most Neanderthals lived for approximately thirty years. Although the lifespan of the Neanderthals is lower than that of humans, some are believed to have lived longer than the approximate age. Ultimately, the difference in lifespan between the Neanderthals and the humans is down to the difference I climatic conditions.
It is also argued that just like humans, the Neanderthals communicated using a language. Scientists have confirmed the presence of a gene attributed to the ability to communicate using a language and it is similar to the one in humans. The complexity of the Neanderthal brain points to the probability of communication within the human relatives. Some scientists have also theorized that the Neanderthals used their intelligence to construct boats for using in sailing across the Mediterranean. The level of intelligence has also been observed in the nature of tools that the Neanderthals used including scrapers and blades. Despite these similarities, the Neanderthals were largely carnivorous with some instances of cannibalism reported in history (Hopkinson, 2000). This development is in contrast to human behavior that is primarily omnivorous and rarely cannibalistic. Some studies have also contrasted this view of Neanderthals pointing out that they actually cooked and ate vegetables on a regular basis. These revelations are supportive of the view that the Neanderthals and the modern human were closely related despite their impeccable differences.
Although the Neanderthals did eventually become extinct, the modern human survived the weathers and are in existence today. Nevertheless, the Neanderthals had graced the earth for a long time than the humans have leading to suggestions that the two species have huge similarities. There have been suggestions that the two species were very close to the point that they actually interbred. Other studies have pointed out that the Neanderthals and the modern humans share a common species and only differ in their sub species. Fossil and archaeological evidence has pointed out the existence of diverse similarities between the Neanderthals and humans. Even where there have been differences, it is totally resulting from the environmental impacts and slight differences in genetic makeup. Most of the attributes shared by modern humans are evident in the culture of Neanderthals including the use of tools and control of fire. The differences as well as the similarities cited serve to support the existence of a close relationship between the two species.
Van Andel, T. H., & Davies, W. (2003). Neanderthals and modern humans in the European landscape during the last glaciation: archaeological results of the Stage 3 Project. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research monographs.
Gunz, P., Neubauer, S., Maureille, B., & Hublin, J. J. (2010). Brain development after birth differs between Neanderthals and modern humans. Current Biology, 20(21), R921-R922.
Stringer, C., & Gamble, C. (1993). In search of the Neanderthals: solving the puzzle of human origins.
Hopkinson, T. (2000). Neanderthals and Modern Humans. Antiquity, 74(285), 723-725.
Ovchinnikov, I. V., Götherström, A., Romanova, G. P., Kharitonov, V. M., Liden, K., & Goodwin, W. (2000). Molecular analysis of Neanderthal DNA from the northern Caucasus. Nature, 404(6777), 490-493.
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