Ancient history

Neanderthal man

The largest existing documentation on the Middle Palaeolithic is that related to the Neanderthal man , a hominid native to central and southern Europe that, over time, spread throughout the Middle East and central Asia.
For some authors, it is a species not related to Homo sapiens, the Homo neanderthalensis , which evolved from indigenous European hominids, such as Homo heidelhergensis . This theory, however, has fewer and fewer supporters and, instead, the one that considers the Neanderthal man gains strength. and the man from Heidelberg as two subspecies of Homo sapiens, which although they would be related to modern man, they would not have intervened in its appearance. According to this second model, the Homo sapiens neandathalensis it developed the physical characteristics that differentiate it from the rest of Homo sapiens due to its geographical isolation and the environmental conditions it had to face.
The remains found indicate that Neanderthal man , named after a site located in this German valley, began to populate Europe about 130,000 years ago. According to the latest research carried out, however, the beginnings of its lithic industry, the Mousterian. they are linked with the latest manifestations of the Acheulean period, which would place the beginning of the European Middle Palaeolithic and, perhaps, of Neanderthal history, at about 200,000 years ago.
Despite emerging in an interglacial period of climatic prosperity, the Homo sapiens neandertlialensis soon it had to adapt to the low temperatures and the icy environment brought about by the Würm glaciation, some 80,000 years ago. This determined its biological evolution, but also the adoption of a way of life different from that of its predecessors.

Neanderthal Man traits

The Homo sapiens neanderthalensis It was endowed with a strong bone structure, so it needed a large muscle mass to move it. His chin was poorly developed, his nose wide, his forehead oblique, and his skull elongated. These and other features clearly distance him from modern man.

An intelligent hominid

With an average cranial capacity of more than 1,500 cm3, Neanderthal man it was not as primitive a hominid as has traditionally been thought. Apparently, he was able to develop an articulate and complex language, and have the necessary capacity for abstraction and artistic production. Skull of a Neanderthal found in Gibraltar, probably one of its last refuges on the European continent.

Neanderthal man's diet

Due to the scarcity of plants, for example, the Neanderthals based their subsistence on hunting medium and large mammals -such as the horse, the woolly rhinoceros or the mammoth- thus competing with the rest of the predators of the Age of Ice. His dependence on migratory species also forced him to continue practicing nomadism, but he learned to preserve meat, smoking it or salting it, in order to survive in harsh periods of scarcity

Environmental protection

Unlike Homo erectus , on the other hand, Neanderthal communities occupied shallow caves and rock shelters to protect themselves from the cold. As a general rule, in caves inhabited by Homo sapiens neanderthalensis , remains of bonfires have been found, partially surrounded by stones, as well as accumulations of bones and tools. In areas lacking natural shelters, such as the Russian steppe, huts built with mammoth bones have also been discovered.

Technological evolution

Regarding the lithic industry, which, as explained, is called Mousterian – in relation to the Le Moustier deposits in the French Dordogne – the Neanderthals created most of their tools using the so-called Levallois , practiced as early as the late Acheulean period. This technique made it possible to obtain a large number of sharp pieces from a single volume of stone. To do so, they first carved the edge into a standard shape and then hit it with precision until the flakes were extracted, which, with the required shape and size, would be turned into hand axes, denticulates or scrapers.
Despite its development and wide distribution, the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis It became extinct about 30,000 years ago. Its disappearance coincided with the arrival on the European continent of another human subspecies that, arising almost in parallel in Africa, soon proved to have a much better ability to adapt:​​Homo sapiens sapiens.

The appearance of the funeral rites

The Neanderthals constituted complex societies, with strong ties between their members - it has been proven, for example, that they cared for injured individuals. On the other hand, they were the first humans to bury their dead. The burials were carried out in graves protected with slabs, excavated almost always in the same caves or shelters that served as dwellings. These ancient graves have been found both in Europe, especially in France, and in the Near East. In Shanidar (Iraq), for example, a grave surrounded by stones was discovered containing nine skeletons of Neanderthals, two adults and seven children; these bodies, it seems, had been deposited on a bed of flowers. When talking about funerary customs, it is not ruled out that the Neanderthals also practiced cannibalism rituals. In the Grotta Guattari, in Italy, a skull was found arranged between stones that had been opened to extract the brain. For some experts, it would be evidence of a ritual practice; for others, it is the remains of a Neanderthal devoured by a carnivore.

The boy from Lapedo

In 1908, a skeleton was found in this Portuguese town with the facial features of a modern human and the bone structure of a Neanderthal, proof of interbreeding between the two subspecies.

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