Pleistocene Epoch

1.8 million to 12,000 years ago


As Ice Ages gripped Europe, neanderthals evolved with adaptations to the cold.

Homo neanderthalis

DATES: 230 to 30 thousand years ago
SITES: throughout Europe east to Israel and Uzbekistan
Although some neanderthal characteristics are found in modern humans or earlier Homo species, the combination of these characteristics in neanderthals is unique. These characteristics increased in frequency as later neanderthals evolved. As a result, there are differences between the robust “classic” neanderthals of Western Europe and the populations of the Middle East.
Neanderthals had a long trunk, short legs, and a robust skeleton. The size of muscle attachment sites imply considerable muscle power. A diastema (gap) exists between the jaw and lower wisdom teeth. The skull and face were long, the forehead low, there were protruding brow ridges, the rear of the braincase was round (not pentagonal as in modern humans), there was a large nasal cavity, the floor of the eye socket was flat or even receding laterally, there was a strong mandible lacking a chin, a protruding midface, the cheekbones were weak and oriented obliquely, the occipital bone bulges posteriorly (the occipital bun, a trait which very rarely can still occur in modern humans), and the occipital bone has a conspicuous depression known as the sura-iniac fossa. Hand bones indicate that Neanderthals may not have been as dextrous as modern humans (Musgrave, 1971; Trinkhaus, 1982). Although neanderthal faces seem abnormally long, they are actually similar to earlier specimens of Homo. Modern human faces are much shorter, including the region of the pharynx which affects the ability to produce the sounds of human speech (Trinkhaus, 2003).
Males averaged 5’6” in height but because of their robustness, they may have averaged 30% larger than modern humans. The average brain capacity was 1450 cc (a little larger than that of moderns) and one young male specimen had a capacity of 1750 cc (Kappelman, 1997). While some concluded that neanderthal nasal specializations make them unique among hominids, others have refuted this (Schwartz, 1996; Laitman, 1996; Franciscus, 1999).. Some neanderthal hand characteristics are unique. Neanderthal hip morphology suggests that they were more active as children. Some analyze this as a potential culture difference between neanderthals and the modern humans that replaced them (how active/mobile the young members of a group were).
Between 300 and 127 thousand years ago there were two periods of glacial advance separated by a cool interglacial period and many features of the Neanderthal body are adaptations to cold temperatures. Neanderthals have provided the first evidence of burying the dead 100 thousand years ago and later burials include animal bones and flint. One 47,600-year-old cave has an impressive 4-meter x 5-meter structure built of stalagtites and stalagmites. Neanderthals arrived in Israel after modern humans and the two groups coexisted (with apparently no exchange of technologies) for 60 thousand years (Bar-Yosef, 1993; Hovers, 1996). Neanderthals used fire and used more tools and weapons than Homo erectus. The types of tools used change very gradually and the style of neanderthal tools are referred to as Mousterian. At some sites, human and ungulate bones are smashed to similar degrees, suggesting cannibalism (Defleur, 1999; Jelinek, 1982).
. In Southern Spain, Neanderthals survive 5-10,000 years after modern Homo sapiens appear in the north of Spain but they don’t acquire any new technologies. In other parts of Europe, Neanderthals do acquire new technologies just before their disappearance, possibly as a result of interaction with modern Homo sapiens (Balter, 1996;).