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In what ways, if at all, were Neanderthals distinct from anatomically modern humans

The question about the common and the different between the anatomically modern humans and their biological relatives the Neanderthals has been a hotly debated issue for a number of decades. The discovery of new evidence in the archaeological record and the employment of increasingly complicated and precise scientific methods in the investigation of the remains helped shed light and eventually resolve some of the disputes in the academic society. As a result of the recent developments a number of significant differences were discovered; a fact that helps tipping the scale in favour of the archaeologists claiming that the Neanderthals and modern humans were two distinct species with some major differences between them. The following paragraphs will list and discuss the assortment of traits characteristic of Homo neandertalensis but lacking in our species. By examining the different environmental conditions under which they developed, biological divergence, variation in hunting and living patterns, tool production, usage, and ultimately modern behaviour I will attempt to draw a clear picture revealing what made the two groups distinct and possibly led to the extinction of the Neanderthals. Extensive research and analysis conducted in the past decades suggests that Homo sapiens and Homo neandertalensis last shared common ancestors approximately 600 000 - 500 000 thousand years ago. The relative geographic isolation and the different environmental conditions in Africa and Europe separating Homo heidelbergensis populations for extended periods of time are two of the most important factors for the appearance of distinct traits in otherwise identical groups. As a result of the above factors, the lack of genetic exchange and the adaptation to the surrounding climate the first distinct populations started to appear in the Europe, the Near East and Africa respectively by 500 000 and 400 000 thousand years ago. The distinctly cold climatic condition of the last 500 millennia, characteristic for large parts of Eurasia forced the local hominines to adapt both biologically and behaviourally to the predominantly harsh environment. In order to cope successfully with the lengthy glacial periods, the evolutionary development of the Neanderthals

produced results that differ significantly from their African counterparts. The first important change occurred in relation to the cranial regions where the scull of the Eurasian population increased in shape and capacity. While still retaining the primitive shape of their ancestors crania, the Neanderthals had a distinctive bulging on its sides as well as larger capacity averaging 1450 cc. In order to accommodate the heavy usage of the teeth for biting and tearing purposes the face had distinctly forward projection along the midline. On the other hand, the modern humans have smaller cranial capacity averaging 1350 cc, with non-projecting face and brow ridges lacking the specialization exhibited by Homo neandertalensis. As stated by Prof. Fred Spoor important difference exists also in the size of the semi-circular canal of the inner ear. The larger size developed by the modern day humans compared to the Neanderthals enables them to possess higher level of physical agility. Due to the importance of air delivery at appropriate temperature to the body for its normal functioning the Eurasian hominines experienced development in the sinuses as well. They increased in size to improve the air moisture, warming and perspiration needed for coping with the demanding life style during the specific period in Europe and parts of Asia. The cranial evolution specific for the Neanderthals coincides and possibly occurs because of the lengthy glaciation periods in Europe. As a resident of lower altitudes, Homo sapiens developed in warmer climatic conditions thus no adaptation to cold weather was necessary. A serious number of post-cranial differences between anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals reflecting the variation of living conditions are notable as well. In response to the difficult survival conditions in Eurasia, the local hominines developed short, robust limbs and bodies, with wide rib cages and powerful muscles. Due to constant movement through rough terrain the ankle joints and toe bones were strong and well developed as well. The particular body to limb length ratio developed most probably in order to enable better heat retention. All traits listed above differ to what is accepted as the standard in the case of Homo sapiens. The modern humans are taller, have longer and thinner limbs and less muscle mass overall reflecting the different environmental and subsistence approaches between the two groups.

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