When Neanderthals lived and what they looked like, whose life was no more than 25 years

(ORDO NEWS) — Previously, it was believed (at least for Europe) that the period from 130 thousand to 35 thousand years ago is the time of the dominance of paleoanthropology, which include mainly Neanderthals. According to newer information, Neanderthals lived in Europe and Western Asia between 250,000 and 28,000 years ago. Their evolution went in the direction of a decrease in the thickness of the cranial bones and an increase in brain volume [in some European Neanderthals it was even larger than in Cro-Magnons, amounting to more than 1600 cm3], although various parts of the brain were not very actively formed. In addition, the eyes of Neanderthals were noticeably larger than ours.

Who are the Neanderthals and what did they look like?

According to the findings of scientists, Neanderthals were short (up to 165 cm), squat people with a powerful shoulder girdle and massive bones. The faces had flat cheekbones, a heavy protruding jaw and a small, sloping chin. Wide brow ridges were also prominent. The forehead was low and sloping, and the back of the head protruded backwards. A characteristic detail was a very wide nose.

The size of the brain is also impressive – 1500 grams. In a modern person, it does not exceed 1300 grams. In addition, Neanderthals had a developed speech apparatus, and probably could talk.

Women were masculine, and today’s men can only dream of their shoulder width. The average life expectancy was short and did not exceed 25 years, although the skulls of individuals that were 40, 50 and even 60 years old were found.

History of the origin of the name

In the west of Germany, near Düsseldorf, is the Neandertal Gorge. It got its name from the German pastor and composer Neander. In the middle of the 19th century, the skull of an ancient man was found here. Two years later, the anthropologist Schaafhausen, who was involved in his research, introduced the term “Neanderthal” into scientific circulation. Thanks to him, the found bones were not sold, and they are now in the Rhineland Museum.

When Neanderthals lived and what they looked like, whose life was no more than 25 years

The term “Neanderthal” (photos obtained as a result of the reconstruction of his appearance can be seen below) does not have clear boundaries due to the vastness and heterogeneity of this group of hominids. The status of this ancient man is also not precisely defined. Some of the scientists classify it as a subspecies of Homo sapiens, some distinguish it as a separate species and even genus. Now the ancient Neanderthal man is the most studied species of fossil hominids. Moreover, bones belonging to this species are still being found.

Neanderthal – structural features and classification

The found bones of fossil people were carefully studied, and on the basis of research, scientists were able to recreate an approximate appearance. The Neanderthal man is undoubtedly one of the first people, since his resemblance to Homo sapiens is obvious. However, there are also a huge number of differences.

When Neanderthals lived and what they looked like, whose life was no more than 25 years

The average height of an ancient person was 165 centimeters. He had a dense physique and a large head, and in terms of the volume of the cranium, the ancient people of the Neanderthals surpassed the modern man. The arms were short, more like paws. Broad shoulders and a barrel-shaped chest indicate great strength.

Powerful superciliary arches, a very small chin, a wide nose, a short neck are other features of the Neanderthals. Most likely, these features were formed under the influence of the difficult conditions of the Ice Age, in which ancient people lived 100 – 50 thousand years ago.

The structure of the Neanderthals suggests that they had a large muscle mass, a heavy skeleton, ate mainly meat and were better adapted to the subarctic climate than the Cro-Magnons.

They had a primitive speech, most likely consisting of a large number of consonants.

Since these ancient people lived on a vast territory, there were several types of them. Some had features closer to the animal-like appearance, others looked like a modern person.

How it was discovered

The remains of these representatives of primitive man were the first of the hominids to be found. Ancient people (Neanderthals) were discovered in 1829 in Belgium. Then this find was not given any importance, and its importance was proved much later. Then their remains were found in England. And only the third discovery in 1856 near Düsseldorf gave the name to the Neanderthal and proved the importance of all previous fossils found.

The quarry workers opened a grotto filled with silt. After clearing it, they found a part of a human skull and several massive bones near the entrance. The ancient remains were acquired by the German paleontologist Johann Fulroth, who later described them.

Where did Neanderthals meet?

People of this species inhabited Europe, met in the Caucasus, Central Asia, as well as in the Near (up to modern Israel) and the Middle East. They lived in small groups. In the East, Neanderthals settled as far as Altai.

Although most of the bone material was found in caves, scientists believe that these people did not live there. Most likely, they built dwellings or sheds, choosing places where food could be obtained.

There was no massacre

“No one has proven that the Cro-Magnons declared war on the Neanderthals and destroyed them in a bloody way,” Drobyshevsky says to Metro. “Although sometimes they probably hit each other with spears. But even before the advent of sapiens, Neanderthals killed themselves in deadly skirmishes.

Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals did not hate each other, there is not a single reliable evidence of this. Maybe they stabbed each other, but not with more enthusiasm than their own kind. In any case, scientists did not find skeletons with holes, broken parking lots.

It’s just that in fact there were much more sapiens – they climbed into Europe from Africa in heaps, so the Neanderthals quickly ended. There were only 10,000 or 40,000 of them at the time of the sapiens migration.

Why didn’t they survive

An interesting fact: Neanderthals remained in us physically, approximately 2–2.5%. Sapiens simply swallowed them up.

On the one hand, there was a continuous influx of sapiens, and on the other, nothing like that, since the Neanderthals sat on the edge of glacial Europe. For 5000 years, they literally disappeared into the Cro-Magnons, without any massacre.

Here is an understandable example – the Oroks, a small people of the north. No one destroys them, no one has ever fought with them, but they are still becoming less and less. So where do they disappear to?

It’s simple – they marry neighbors. At the same time, there are plenty of neighbors, and, for example, there are only 200 of them. Well, count how many generations they will disappear.

Neanderthals are the small peoples of the north, only the Middle Paleolithic era. Cro-Magnons are numerous tropical, Neanderthals are northern small.

Neanderthals also mowed down each other, with them every second was a cannibal. And in general, life was not easy, they lived in harsh climatic conditions. Everything turned out in the end not in their favor.

When Neanderthals lived and what they looked like, whose life was no more than 25 years

Have you tried to migrate

In fact, the Neanderthals drove the sapiens to the east, partially defeated them. But again, there were too few of them. As tough as they seemed, they lacked numbers.

Africa is big and fertile, Europe is small and resource poor. Therefore, from Africa there were crowds that simply swallowed up the small number of Neanderthals.

What was different

Neanderthals had two distinctive physical features – expansion and massiveness. Wide head, face, shoulders, chest, pelvis, articular parts of the bones. They had massive, thick bones, with a pronounced relief. A la gnomes, that is, not very tall – their height was about 160 centimeters.

Cro-Magnons, on the other hand, were skinny, long, with outstretched arms and legs and a shortened torso, they had narrow shoulders, a pelvis. So the contrast was solid.

If we move on to modern comparisons, then they differed from each other approximately as the Eskimos differ from the Masai.

Physico-biological characteristics

Homo neanderthalensis fossils found so far, about 400 individuals, provide enough information to know their physical characteristics. Thus, in general terms, it was a species with a strong skeleton, a wide pelvis, short limbs and a barrel-shaped ribcage.

Likewise, the forehead was low and sloping, with prominent supraorbital ridges. The jaw was missing a chin and had a significant cranial capacity.

The arms, like those of primates, were longer than those of modern humans. Its pelvis, besides its width, has characteristics that seem to indicate a difference in its way of walking relative to H. sapiens, although it was also bipedal.

Studies show that their lifespan was not very long, perhaps due to the harshness of the environment. Thus, men usually did not exceed 40 years, and women – 30.

Adapted to the cold

Neanderthals must have survived in an environment marked by the last ice age. This resulted in them having to adapt to this climate of extreme cold in order to survive. Traits such as an elongated skull, short stature, and broad nose are some of the consequences of this adaptation, according to experts.

As already noted, Neanderthals did not stand out because of their height. The average view was 1.65 meters. This was made up for by his robust physique, both bone and muscle. It is believed that they were not well equipped for running long distances, although for short and fast races to capture prey or avoid dangers.

Larynx and mouth

More than a purely anatomical aspect, the interesting thing about the Neanderthal larynx is its use. Thus, his location, higher than that of modern man, might have allowed him to formulate limited phonetics.

On the other hand, experts concluded that the opening of the mouth was larger than that of modern humans. This made it easier to take large bites of food.


As in many other aspects, modern research methods have provided new information about the diet of Homo neanderthalensis. It used to be thought to be highly carnivorous. Food came from horses, deer or large cows. Apart from this, it also hunted larger prey such as rhino.

However, the most recent research shows that their diet was much more varied. The most important thing in this aspect was adaptation to the environment, consumption of the resources they found, animals or vegetables.


The Neanderthal was an omnivorous species whose diet varied according to its environment. For example, in Mediterranean areas they are known to have consumed small animals such as rabbits or birds.

On the other hand, they also used marine resources. They found remains that prove they ate shellfish, seals, or dolphins.

In addition to the carnivorous diet, the Neanderthal also consumed large amounts of fruits and vegetables. In fact, some experts have calculated that 80% of their food comes from these sources.

Knowing the fire, they could improve their food, cook animals or plants. Respect to the latter, there is evidence indicating that they used some to alleviate or cure diseases.

Dietary diversity has led scientists to believe that Neanderthals developed sophisticated hunting and gathering techniques.


One aspect that was more controversial at the time was the existence of cannibalism among Neanderthals. The Mula Ghersi or Vindhya deposits provided quite convincing evidence of this fact.

They found, for example, bones with cuts made by stone tools, with obvious signs of careful removal of meat.

However, experts point out that it was not cannibalism due to food reasons. The reason appears to have been ritual, as evidenced by ethnological comparisons and butchering methods compared to animals intended for consumption.

Cannibalism has been practiced in different regions and for long periods of time. Apart from the aforementioned deposits, evidence has been found in others such as El Cidron in Spain or Krapina in Croatia.

The Spanish case, however, presents some significant differences. This led to the thought that in such a case, if cannibalism could be a necessity, because of the great famine that had been experienced in the area. The bones found were processed to remove the marrow, one of its most valuable parts for its nutrients.

From simple to complex

When the “straight-line” approach to human evolution was replaced by a complex “tree-like” approach, the latter, in turn, gave rise to several points of view. According to one of them, less radical, man really first appeared in Africa, but left it very early and settled in different territories, where he later developed on his own, independently of others. Scientists who adhere to this multi-regional hypothesis, as a rule, are the most venerable specialists, relying on data from “traditional” scientific disciplines (paleoanthropology and archeology).

Recently, a second theory has become widespread, according to which all people are “out of Africa”. According to the monocentric theory, the “dark continent” is not only the birthplace of the most ancient population of the planet, but all subsequent waves of migration also came from here, including modern humans, who also appeared for the first time in Africa and only later populated the territories of Eurasia, mixing with local natives, living there at the time.

If we accept our African origin, then it turns out that all the main genetic waves were formed in Africa. What was the reason for these migrations?

Africa is also called the “cauldron”: there were good conditions for reproduction. And then what? There are such concepts as ecological niche and population explosion. When a human population lives in one place for a long time, it exhausts its resources, especially if this group of people does not produce, but only consumes. Of course, primitive people were not going to conquer Eurasia, which they had no idea about. They just went where it was better for them, which can be clearly seen from the parking lots marking the path of their movement. All of them are located in places with familiar ecological conditions, relief, etc.

The same phenomenon was discovered on the Angara when studying Neolithic sites. If you dig the river bank there, then for kilometers you will again and again come across the camps of hunters who moved along the coast as how the resources of the local site were depleted. The multiregional point of view is now confirmed by archaeological data, according to which in almost every region we see a gradual, progressive development of the material culture of ancient man.

But the monocentric theory is supported by the data of the natural sciences, primarily paleogenetics. But the truth, as always, must be somewhere in the middle. In any case, all scientists agree that humanity originated in Africa. The presence of the “African cradle” is confirmed by both anthropological and archaeological data, including the finds of the most ancient stone tools, whose age is more than 3 million years.

According to modern ideas, about 2 million years ago, a man for the first time left the borders of his African homeland and entered the expanses of Eurasia. This step was indeed made by the first representative of the genus Homo – a skilled man, although in different regions he is often given “local” names. For example, the remains of nine individuals of one of its varieties, found in Dmanisi, in Georgia, were attributed to the “Georgian man”. However, there are reasons for this: many scientists believe that the Dmanisi hominins in their development have already stepped from a skilled person to a more advanced (in morphological terms) subspecies of Homo ergaster.

Gradually, man moved farther and farther across the territories of the Eurasian continent up to the northern borders. Of course, we are not talking about directed migration and not about crowds, but about small groups that moved from one habitat to another, for example, following the herds of animals that were hunted.

Let us especially note that the descendants of the first wave of settlement of ancient people, belonging to Homo erectus, “came” to our Altai. The earliest evidence of human presence in North Asia was found near Denisova Cave. This is a well-dated primitive site of Karama, at least 800 thousand years old! In the 1980s an attempt was made on the basis of the finds made in Yakutia to substantiate the possibility of an earlier settlement of North Asia, but the Yakut artifacts, unlike the Altai ones, are still the subject of a dispute. In any case, we are now sure that Siberia was involved in the process of the initial settlement of the human population.

The next mass settlement of people outside of Africa took place much later (about 400-500 thousand years ago) and was associated with the developed forms of Homo erectus, better known to us as “Pithecanthropus”. This time people have reached even more distant regions of Eurasia, including Siberia. It is with this wave that we today associate the real flourishing in the production of stone tools and the skills of hunting animals. These primitive peoples, who already had clothes and dwellings, were well adapted to survive in an environment much harsher than that of Africa.

It is clear that the division of human “outcomes” into the first and second waves is a convention. In this way, we simply strive to highlight the most significant events.

The Discovery of the “Third Man”

As already mentioned, the first evidence of the settlement of Altai by man dates back to about 800 thousand years old. Then there is a significant “break”: apparently, in the period 600-300 thousand years ago, people did not live in Altai and in general in Western Siberia, most likely because of the not too gentle climate. It is possible that the human population that then lived in these latitudes was small and could have disappeared as a result of biological laws.

The next well-known “outpost” of man in Altai is Denisova Cave. The lowest ancient layers of sediments at this site date back to about 300 thousand years, i.e., they belong to the second global wave of human migration. Since that time, the entire territory of Altai has been actively and successfully mastered by man.

It is Denisova Cave that is associated with truly fantastic finds of a new subspecies of man, which was called the Denisovan, or Altai man (Homo altaiensis). Research in the cave is carried out systematically and very carefully: over the years of study, many fossil bones of various animals have been found in cave deposits, but anthropological remains have been rare. Among them is a small bone – the distal phalanx of a child’s little finger, discovered in 2008 in the eastern gallery of the cave in a layer more than 40 thousand years old, i.e., it belongs to the time of the supposed transition from Neanderthal to modern humans.

In 2009, this find was submitted for research to the laboratory of paleogenetics specialist S. Paabo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany). Siberian archaeologists have already collaborated with Professor Paabo’s team before: German researchers analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of the remains found in the Okladnikova cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia, and proved that they belong to a Neanderthal.

Based on the finds from the Denisova Cave, is it possible to establish how Denisovans and Neanderthals got along with each other? Were they at enmity, or was it a peaceful coexistence?

Judging by what tools the Denisovans created, we can say that there is most likely no evidence of the presence of the material culture of the Neanderthals in the Denisova Cave. Where are their bones then? Maybe the Denisovans ate Neanderthals (which is not excluded) or entered into marital relations with them. As for conflict situations, there used to be a beautiful theory according to which people of the modern type, already with an established culture, came to Europe, but this territory was inhabited by Neanderthals, and newcomers ousted the local population. 

The most “later” Neanderthals were found just on the periphery of Europe – in the Mediterranean, in Portugal, where they finally died out. Whether this displacement was forced, through armed conflicts and war, is difficult to say now. However, hunting equipment which people of the modern type had, made it possible to kill their own kind.

As for the phalanx of the little finger from the Denisova Cave, archaeologists were sure that the bone no longer belonged to a Neanderthal, but to a person of a modern physical type. This is exactly what the inscription on the label of the package said, in which the find came to paleogenetics.

 It’s funny that at the exhibition held in 2017 and dedicated to the “third man” and Denisova Cave, in addition to the phalanx itself, the mentioned historical plastic bag with the preserved “wrong” inscription was shown. in which the find came to paleogenetics.

The first surprise obtained from the study of DNA from the phalanx was its excellent preservation. For paleogenetic studies, Denisova Cave and the entire region serve as a real fount of information, which is associated with the unique climate both in Altai as a whole and in the cave itself. Due to the special temperature regime, organic matter in the deposits of local caves is preserved very well. There is even a joke among archaeologists that somewhere there may be a real mummy of a Denisovan.

When Neanderthals lived and what they looked like, whose life was no more than 25 years

The main conclusion drawn from studying the DNA of a tiny bone from the Denisova Cave was that it belonged to a new subspecies of a person about which no one knew anything. This was a real shock for everyone: how is it that, in the yard of the 21st century, archeology and anthropology have been studied for more than one century, and suddenly a complete stranger appears on the evolutionary scene!

The legendary find was not the only one. And although the burial of the Denisovan man was not found in the cave, something was found: teeth and a fragment of the skull cap. By the way, the most common anthropological material in Altai is precisely the bones of the fingers, why is unknown. Maybe they were frozen and removed, or it was connected with some kind of rituals … In any case, we gradually begin to imagine what our hero really looked like. And let it be fantasy for now, since the skulls of the “third person” have not yet been found, but paleogenetics help us, who can tell what color the eyes of the Denisovans were, what kind of hair …

Appearance of Neanderthals

When Neanderthals lived and what they looked like, whose life was no more than 25 years

About 130 thousand years ago, in Europe, as well as in Africa and Asia, Homo neanderthalis (Homo Neanderthalis) appeared – a Neanderthal. The names “Neanderthal”, “Cro-Magnon” come from the names of the places where the bones of these ancient people were first found: the Neander River in Germany and the Cro-Magnon Cave in France.

Neanderthals were notable for their small stature – the average height of men was 160 centimeters, women about 155 centimeters. They were stocky, with a powerful, broad chest, physically very strong. Neanderthals had a strong short neck, a large head, a narrow forehead, and a wide, low nose. Strongly protruding brow ridges with thick eyebrows hung over deep-set eyes. Neanderthals had more differences from monkeys than the Pithecanthropus (Homo erectus) that preceded them, they had a larger skull and, accordingly, a larger brain volume. In the “late Neanderthals” a chin protrusion formed on the lower jaw. Neanderthals had a habit of squatting, which some tribes still do today. The term “Neanderthal” has not well-defined boundaries. In view of the vastness and heterogeneity of this group of hominids,

Neanderthal dwelling

Most Neanderthals lived in caves, where many generations succeeded each other. Sometimes, when there were fewer animals to hunt, Neanderthals left their cave and moved to another place. Everything that remained at the parking lot – ashes from a fire, bones, abandoned or unusable tools, weapons, over time was covered with a layer of earth and stones. Tens, hundreds or even thousands of years later, a new group of people settled in the cave and left a new layer of remains, which time buried in the same way. This is how the “cultural layers” were formed, through which archaeologists learn about human evolution, the change of his occupations and climate changes over thousands of years.

In a cave in the southeast of modern France, scientists have discovered 64 such habitats that formed over 5,000 years. On the territory of modern Ukraine, Neanderthal sites were found in the Crimea, the Carpathians, Donbass, on the banks of the Dnieper, Dniester and Desna.

Neanderthals hid from the cold not only in caves. Over time, they began to build dwellings from mammoth bones and poles, covering them with the skins of dead animals.

Daily life and activities of Neanderthals

Fire played an important role in the life of the Neanderthals. It is not known for certain when a person first decided to approach the fire that arose from a lightning strike or a volcanic eruption. For hundreds of thousands of years, people did not know how to make fire, they were forced to support it – “feed” it with branches and leaves. When the tribe moved to a new place, the fire in special “cages” was carried by the strongest and most dexterous people. The “death” of fire often meant the death of the entire tribe, which could not keep warm in cold weather without fire and defend itself from predators. Gradually, they began to cook meat and other food on the fire, which was not only tastier, but also more nutritious for the body, and also contributed to the development of the brain. Later, people learned to make fire on their own by striking sparks from a stone on dry grass or quickly rotating a wooden stick with their palms in a hole in a dry piece of wood. This has become one of the greatest achievements of man. The time when people learned how to make fire coincided with the era of great migrations.

The history of Neanderthals goes back over 100,000 years. Neanderthals lived collectively – a primitive herd, or community. They hunted together, so the prey became their common property. Men made weapons and stone tools – scrapers, chisels, awls, knives. They were engaged in hunting and rough work in butchering the carcasses of animals obtained by hunting. Women processed skins, collected fruits, edible tubers and roots, collected firewood to keep the fire going. Thus arose the first, natural division of labor – according to gender.

The hunter alone could not catch a large animal. Joint hunting required mutual understanding of primitive people. To kill a large animal, Neanderthals used, for example, driven hunting techniques, set fire to the steppe and drove a herd of horses or deer into a natural trap – an abyss or swamp, where they could only finish off their prey. Using another hunting technique, the hunters drove the animals onto the thin ice of the river with shouts and noise.

Neanderthals also hunted large animals, such as cave bears, as evidenced by finds in the Dragon Cave in Austria, bison, woolly rhinos and huge mammoths, for which they used traps – artificially dug and disguised holes. Neanderthals did not decorate their bodies, so they did not leave behind any monuments of art. But for the first time they began to bury their dead – they laid the dead relative on the right side, put a stone under the head and bent the legs, leaving weapons and food next to it. Probably, Neanderthals believed that death is something like sleep. Burials, as well as the remains of their sanctuaries, for example, those associated with the cult of the bear, testified to the emergence of the beginnings of religion.

First clashes and protracted war

When Neanderthals lived and what they looked like, whose life was no more than 25 years

The earliest evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia are two skulls aged 210 and 170 thousand years from the cave of Apidima in southern Greece. The researchers suggest that modern people have repeatedly tried to settle in the Middle East and Southeast Europe, but were rebuffed. According to scientists, about 125 thousand years ago, people began a “planned” expansion, settled on the Arabian Peninsula, then, after 50 thousand years, they “captured” Hindustan, and about 55 thousand years ago moved through the Middle East to Europe. At the same time, in the western Black Sea region, no finds related to Neanderthals younger than 46 thousand years have yet been found, in the Iberian Peninsula – younger than 40 thousand years, in Great Britain – 36. In Altai, the latest artifacts date back to 24 thousand years. It turns out that Homo neanderthalensis did not give up without a fight. And they were not swallowed by another, albeit a closely related species. For about a hundred thousand years they resisted human expansion. They fought the longest for the Middle East, where they felt very comfortable due to the mild climate and the abundance of animal and plant foods. The first people came there 90 thousand years ago, and the Neanderthals disappeared after 45 thousand years.

Supercomputer confirmed the cause

South Korean scientists from the Center for Climate Physics at the Institute of Basic Sciences in Busan used a supercomputer to test various hypotheses about the disappearance of Neanderthals in Europe between 43,000 and 38,000 years ago. The mathematical model took into account the migration processes of Homo neanderthalensis and modern humans, their interaction, competition and crossing under conditions of changing temperature, rainfall, and the availability of plant and animal food. The simulation results showed that neither climate change, nor inbreeding, nor crossing with Homo sapiens explain the decline of one species and its replacement by another, closely related species that occurred in such a short period of time from the point of view of evolutionary history.


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