Homo Neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man)


A skeleton of an old Neanderthal male, who lived in the Upper Pleistocene during the last (Wurm) glaciation, some 50 thousand years ago, was discovered by A. and J. Bouyssonie and L. Bardon in 1908 in a cave near the village of La Chapelle-aux-Saints, Corrèze, France. Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) flint tools and animal bones were found in the same layer.

The French paleontologist Marcellin Boule undertook a thorough analysis of the skeleton and found that it belonged to a typical (“classical”) Neanderthal. In his opinion, Neanderthals could not be the ancestors of modern people. This conclusion was based not so much on primitive characteristics, linking Neanderthals with their predecessors (“Pithecanthropus-like” hominids), as on derived features, suggesting that Neanderthals had deviated from the main course of human evolution. Their archaic cranial shape (low vault, receding forehead, supraorbital torus, etc.) and primitive brain structure combined with a very large brain mass (even larger than in modern man). American anthropologists headed by Aleš Hrdlicka disagreed with Boule. In their view, Neanderthals were ancestors of modern humans, specifically of Caucasoids. Debates around the role of Neanderthals in human evolution have continued up to the present day.

New findings challenge the idea that Neanderthals were our ancestors. More likely, they were a separate species (Homo neanderthalensis), the last dead end in human evolution. The structure of DNA, which was extracted from their bones, sets the Neanderthals apart from modern humans. In Europe, they had survived up until quite recent times (28-30 thousand years ago) and were replaced, by force or otherwise, by anatomically modern people associated with a more advanced culture, who had invaded Europe from the east about 40 thousand years ago. Over several millennia, the aborigines of Europe (Neanderthals) coexisted with the immigrants (representatives of Homo sapiens) and were partly assimilated by them. Hybridization between the two groups could have occurred as well.

M.M. Gerasimov has reconstructed the appearances of several Neanderthals. His position in the dispute around the status of those hominids fully agrees with prevailing modern views. He described them in the following way: “The forehead is low and retreating... Close-set small eyes are deeply sunk under the “visor” of the heavy brow ridges. The neck is short and very robust. The shoulders are sloping. The whole appearance is suggestive of a bestial primitiveness. And still it is a human, but one displaying biological characteristics of a specialized type.... Those were primitive but true humans having peculiar ideas of the world, ideas that are vague for us.”

Location of the Paleolithic cave near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France. Cranium of an old Neanderthal male from La Chapelle-aux-Saints. Plaster cast.

The appearance of La Chapelle-aux-Saints man reconstructed by M.M. Gerasimov. Plaster.

Scraper. Point. Discoid core.

Mikhail Gerasimov’s Career
Mikhail Gerasimov as an Archaeologist
Reconstruction of the Face from the Cranium
“Sinanthropus” (Member of the Species Homo Erectus)
Homo Neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man)
Neanderthal Child from Teshik-Tash
People of the Upper Paleolithic
People of the Mesolithic
People of the Early Iron Age
Drawings by M.M. Gerasimov