Homo Neanderthalensis- the Neanderthals

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Since their discovery more than a century ago, the Neanderthals have hovered over the minds and have baffled the best-laid theories of paleoanthropologists. They seem to fit in the general scheme of human evolution, and yet they’re misfits. (Jurmain, Kilgore, Trevathan and Ciochon. p.367) In a way they are like us the modern Homo sapiens but yet are a very different species. But the real question that needs to be answered is “why the Neanderthals were considered a different species than the Homo sapiens and what made them go extinct?” The first Neanderthal remains were discovered in the year of 1856 in Germany. This discovery of a skullcap and partial skeleton in a cave in the Neander Valley (near Dusseldorf) was the first recognized fossil human form (Smithsonian 2007b). This was the first time Neanderthal fossils were discovered, as skulls were unearthed in Engis, Belgium in 1829 and Forbes’ Quarry, Gibraltar in 1848. However; these earlier discoveries were not known as belonging to archaic forms. The type of specimen, named Neanderthal 1, consisted of a skull cap, two femora, three bones from the right arm, two from the left arm, part of the left ilium, fragments of a scapula, and ribs. When this skeleton was recovered the workers thought the bones belonged to a bear. The workers then gave the material to an amateur naturalist Johann Karl Fuhlrott, who then in turn gave the fossils to anatomist Hermann Schaffhausen. The discovery was jointly announced in 1857. In 1864, a new species was known as: Homo Neanderthalensis. These, and later, discoveries led to the idea that these remains were from the ancient Europeans who played an important role in modern human origins. The bones of over four hundred Neanderthals have been found since. The most controversial one was excavated in 1908 at La Chalpelle-aux-Saints in southeast France. This was a nearly complete skeleton of a man who would have been elderly by the Neanderthals standards. The bones were analyzed between 1911 and 1913 by the well known French paleontologist, Marcellin Boule. But unfortunately his prejudices got in the way of scientific objectivity. He described the La Chapelle- aux-Saints man, and subsequently all Neanderthals, as dull- witted, brutish and ape-like creatures who walked hunched over with a shuffling gait. Today scientists think he misjudged the Neanderthal posture because the adult male that was discovered had osteoarthritis of the spine. Also, and probably more important, Boule and his contemporaries found it difficult to fully accept that the Neanderthals would have been the ancestor of modern humans. The skull of this male, which was 40 years old when he died, is very large with a cranial capacity of 1,620cm. Typical of western European classic forms, the vault was low and long; the brow ridges are immense, with the typical Neanderthal arched shape; the forehead was low and retreating; and the face was long and projecting. The La Chapelle skeleton wasn’t a typical Neanderthal, but and unusually robust male. Who “evidently represented an extreme in the Neanderthal range of variation” (Brace et al., 1979, p.117). The term “Neanderthal Man” was named by an Irish anatomist William King. He named them after the Neander River Valley. Classic Neanderthal fossils have been found over a large area, from northern Germany, to Israel to Mediterranean countries like Spain and Italy, and from England in the west to Uzbekistan in the east. The first proto- Neanderthal traits appeared in Europe as early as 350,000 years ago. (Bischoff et al. 2003). By 130,000 years ago, full blown Neanderthal characteristics were present. Neanderthals became extinct in Europe approximately 30,000 years ago. There is recently discovered fossil and stone-tool evidence that suggests Neanderthals may have still been in existence 24,000 years ago, at which time they disappeared from the fossil record and were replaced in Europe by modern Homo sapiens. (Rincon 2006, Mcilroy 2006,...
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