Casts from the American Museum of Natural History. On the left is the old Cro-Magnon Man
and on the right is the old man of La-Chapelle-aux-Saints.

As you can see in the photo above, Neandertal bone structure and morphology was somewhat different from modern man's. Neandertals were better adapted for harsh, cold climates. Their bodies were short and squat, which primarily helped in keeping them warm in nasty, below freezing Ice Age weather. It has been speculated that their noses and large nasal cavities were also an adaptation to the cold climates that they lived in. With larger nasal passages, cold air could be quickly warmed while breathing.

  This illustration, from Juan Luis Arsurga, et al's Atapuerca, shows the difference between 
Modern man's and Neandertal's craniums.
Click on the image for a larger view.


Neandertals also had different shaped skulls than our own. If you look carefully you can see that they have low, sloping foreheads, whereas ours are much higher. In viewing this, one can speculate that their brains were  situated somewhat differently. Neandertals' brains were longer and lower, and rested behind as well as above the face (Tattersall 1995). Despite the fact that their brains were the same size as ours, and sometimes larger, no one knows what the importance of the difference in brain shape in Neandertals represented.

a comparison
       This illustration, done by Diane Salles, in Ian Tattersall's, The Last Neanderthal, shows the differences that exist between modern human and Neandertal morphology! The Neandertal is on the left and the modern 
human is on the right. Click on the image for a full-sized view.

       This illustration, from Ian Tattersall's, The Last Neanderthal, shows the brain extremities of Neandertals in comparison 
to modern man. Click on the image for a full-sized view.


Another interesting thing about these hominids' morphology was that their bones were much larger and thicker than modern humans. Their leg, foot, and hand bones were especially sturdy. According to Neandertal specialist Erik Trinkaus, "these guys were built like Arnold Schwartznegger naturally." I believe he said that in an episode of Archaeology. Taking this into account though, imagine how built Arnie was during the Mr. Universe competition. Now think about this body structure as being natural to a human being. They do not have to work for it because they were born this way. Well, that was what it was like for Neandertals. They could have won the Mr. Universe competitions without even bothering to train for it

In viewing the above images the one one the right depicts the power of a Neandertal's grip. The Neandertal finger bone is on the left, a modern's on the right. The photograph on the left is that of a modern weightlifter's femur, on the right, contrasted with the thickness of a Neandertal femur. The pictures were taken by Erik Trinkaus

Some paleoanthropologists have theories about why these hominids had the kind of morphology they did. One idea is that since Neandertals led strenuous lives, they would definitely need a strong bone structure. "Bone is responsive to the stresses placed on it in life, and it has long been suggested that the heavy build of Neandertal is a result of a particularly strenuous lifestyle," according to Ian Tattersall (Tattersall 1995:175). Keep in mind they were hunting very close and getting constantly injured in their struggle to survive. Also, these hominids did much foraging across various terrain, not really planning where and when they going.

Others have suggested, that in terms of the projecting midfacial features of Neandertals, that they were an anchor for their heavy jaw muscles, which as has been previously mentioned, were used a means of gripping objects. These others have also suggested that Neandertals faces were the way they were because of a part of a mating recognition system that existed between them. This basically means that these hominids recognized each other by their distinctive facial features. This paradigm has also been used to claim that Neandertals did not interbreed with Homo sapiens.

Of course, don't get me wrong but, you also must know that there are two different varieties of Neandertals, 'classical' and 'progressive'. The morphology which we have been discussing is primarily that of 'classic' Neandertals, much like the ones in the photos above. 'Progressive' Neandertals, on the other hand, do not have as many strong features as the 'classic's' we have been talking about. They had less pronounced browridges, less midfacial projection, and they were more tall and gracile than the 'classic's. Their bone structure was also not as robust as their counterparts. In fact, some believe that 'progressive' could possibly represent hybrids of Neandertals and Homo sapiens.

In order from left to right is the Teshik-Tash child, Shanidar I, Che Guevara's recently discovered skull, and the Saint Cesaire skull. As you can see Neandertal features were apparent from a young age. The Teshik-Tash child was age 9 at the time of death. Already a browridge is noticable as well as a large nasal cavity, a sloping forehead, and a lacking chin. Now, observe Shanidar I and the Saint Cesaire Neandertals. See the difference between the 'classics' and the "progressives." Notice that there is less midfacial projection, a lighter bone structure, a less defined browridge, a lack of the gap that exists between the last molar and the jawbone (known as the retro- molar gap, and a more rising forehead. There is even a slight hint of a developed chin, which 'classics' did not have. Finally, in looking at Che's skull, one can see the legacy of the Neandertals. Notice his strong browridge and mildly developed chin. It's almost as if he could fit in between Shanidar I and the Saint Cesaire Neandertal.

As you can see, Neandertals still pose questions for us that only they can answer. Hopefully, one day we will crack the code and the secrets of Neandertal Man will be revealed. Until then all we have left to rely on is the fossil record. One in which these ancestors still grin at us quietly, as if almost mocking us, for it is they who know the answers to our puzzling questions. Maybe in the end it will be the Neandertal that has the last laugh.

You probably have one last question you would like to ask. What did Neandertals look like? Well in the picture below you can see. The one on the left is from a project headed by Erik Trikaus at the University of New Mexico. The computer animated reconstruction on the right is from National Geographic Magazine.

Do you see a resemblance?

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