Where do people come from? Did we exist thousands of years ago? Millions of years ago? These complex questions have prompted scientific research for generations, and many of them still remain unanswered. The field of evolutionary anthropology is all about piecing together the pieces of the puzzle of human origins. Anthropologists use fossil evidence, geological and ecological information, and comparative anatomy to paint a more complete picture of human history. This article explores how Neanderthals fit into the saga of human evolution and asks the question: How old was the oldest Neanderthal?
Modern people are classified as reasonable man where “homo” is the genus and “sapien” is the species. Taxonomic classification of Neanderthals: Homo neanderthalensis. This indicates that the Neanderthals shared the genus with modern humans, but were a completely different species. An analogy to this is like wolves (Canis lupus), coyotes (Canis latrans) and jackals (Canis aureus) belong to. They all belong to the same genus and, therefore, are closely related to each other, but are separate species.
It is known that Neanderthals did not give birth to modern humans, that is, Neanderthals did not evolve into reasonable man… However, we did have a common ancestor at some point, and the exact origin is still hotly debated. It is also known that modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted before their extinction, and it has even been proven that the two species interbred. The interbreeding of modern humans and Neanderthals has been proven by both fossils and DNA. In modern humans, Neanderthal DNA accounts for 2% of non-African genomes. This is because Neanderthals evolved outside of Africa.
How are Neanderthals similar to modern humans?
Neanderthals are a lot like modern humans. Two important traits that distinguish hominins (humans and their ancestors) from other monkeys are bipedal, that is, the ability to walk on two legs, and a larger brain. And Neanderthals, and reasonable man showed these traits and, as a result, had morphological similarities confirming these traits. Both species had a pelvis that allowed walking upright and gave birth to a baby with a larger meninges. Based on the analysis of fossilized skull fragments, it is estimated that the average brain size of Neanderthals was about 1,435 cubic centimeters. With a modern human brain, an average of 1,350 cubic centimeters, the Neanderthal’s brain was larger.
Neanderthals were indeed very different from modern humans in many ways. Neanderthals generally had a stronger skeleton and about 30% more body weight than modern humans. It is assumed that this is the result of the settlement of Europe during the last ice age. A wide “barrel-shaped” rib cage will reduce the body surface area-to-volume ratio for better heat retention. Unlike modern humans, Neanderthals also had very prominent brow ridges, smaller foreheads, and no chins.
What do we know about the behavior of Neanderthals?
Much has been learned about the behavior and culture of Neanderthals from the fossils found in the places where they are known to have lived. There is evidence that Neanderthals used both their teeth and fossilized bones to process clothing using sewing needles. Perforated shells have also been found and are believed to have been used as decorations. It is believed that various objects decorated with colored pigmentation also serve some kind of cultural purpose.
Burials are also believed to have been a unique element of Neanderthal culture. Intentional burials have not previously been found in the human fossil record, but numerous Neanderthal skeletons have been found, apparently deliberately buried in a fetal position. It is not known whether these burials were symbolic or simply practical.
There is ample evidence that Neanderthals hunted and used tools. They were successful hunters of large mammals and marine life such as shellfish, crabs and fish. There is some evidence of cannibalism among Neanderthals. Bone cuts at soft tissue attachments and percussion marks indicating access to the bone marrow suggest that meat and bone marrow were removed from Neanderthal bones using Neanderthal instruments. Neanderthals are associated with Mousterian technology – a special form of complex stone tools. They are also known to have used fire and built shelters.
How old is the oldest Neanderthal man?
The oldest Neanderthal man lived about 430,000 years ago. These fossils come from Spain and are still the subject of controversy over whether they were related to Neanderthals.
If you look at the history of human evolution as a whole, then this is an incredibly recent event. The earliest known hominin species has been identified from a fossil that is 7,200,000–6,800,000 years old. This partial cranial fossil belongs to the taxon Sahelanthropus tchadensis and was found in Chad.
Other Neanderthal fossils are about 250,000 years old. These include skull fragments found in Italy in 1929 and 1935 at a site called Saccopastore. A holotype specimen – the fossil from which the new species was identified – was discovered in a cave in Germany and was found to be 40,000 years old. This fossil, Neanderthal 1, was discovered in 1856. Although other Neanderthal fossils have been discovered prior to this, it was this fossil that was first recognized as belonging to a new species.
Another important Neanderthal fossil is known as Shanidar 1. This fossil was discovered in Shanidar, Iraq in 1957 and is 45,000 to 35,000 years old. This fossil is important because it is recognized as the first evidence of human compassion. The skull shows traces of crushing over the left eye, the right arm is atrophied, and the right leg is crippled. All of these injuries show signs of healing, indicating that this person was treated after likely becoming blind and partially paralyzed. There is no earlier evidence in the human fossil record that potentially fatal injuries were treated and treated.