Neanderthal man reborn as sensitive home-lover
12 September 2005
By David Keys
The common caveman is being reborn, 150 years after he was first discovered in a cave in north-western Germany.
Instead of the angry, ape-like figure of popular imagination, a study by American scientists suggests the Neanderthal was a family man, in touch with his emotions, who did not wander far from his relatives. But a dislike of long-distance travel may eventually have consigned him to extinction.
The "new" caveman - built using bones from seven incomplete skeletons discovered in six countries - has been constructed just months ahead of official celebrations to mark the Neanderthal anniversary.
Although bits of at least 100 Neanderthals have been discovered by archaeologists, no one has ever found a complete skeleton.
The reconstruction, by physical anthropologists Gary Sawyer and Blaine Maley of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, is helping to confirm that Neanderthals were almost certainly inferior to anatomically modern humans in long-distance mobility. Indeed some archaeologists are now beginning to think that this handicap was ultimately partially to blame for them becoming extinct.
It backs up those scholars who have argued that Neanderthals were poor distance runners unsuited to long hunting expeditions.
Whereas Homo sapiens was able to pursue prey over very long distances, Neanderthals appear to have been markedly less able to do so and, as a consequence, were probably away from their families for shorter periods than Homo sapiens.
And it is likely that family structures and relationships between males and females may well have been markedly different.
"The reconstruction strengthens the case for regarding Neanderthals as representing a different species with their own survival strategies compared to those of Homo sapiens," said Professor Chris Stringer, head of the Human Origins Research Programme at London's Natural History Museum, and author of a book on hominid prehistory, The Complete World of Human Evolution.
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