The Neanderthals remain something of a mystery in the story of human descent. Scientists still debate whether they are a closely related sub-species of modern humans or represent a collateral line of late Homo erectus, related to but not ancestral to modern humans.
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis--"Neanderthal Man"--was a robust human species occupying Europe and western Asia from approximately 135,000 to 30,000 years ago. They flourished in both warm interglacial periods and in the challenging conditions of glacial advance. .
At first glance, Neanderthal remains appear primitive and crude, rather like Homo erectus and quite different from modern humans. Their arm and leg bones were, in fact, approximately twice as thick as ours, suggesting their immense strength and the rugged conditions of their existence. Otherwise, their bodies are strikingly modern. They had prominent noses, long faces with sloping foreheads and big skulls. Their average brain capacity (1400-1500 cc) actually exceeds that of modern humans-- although the configuration of parts of the brain is different. The speech areas of the Neanderthal brain are not as developed as ours and the forebrain is smaller. .
The Neanderthal were the first humans to live in Ice Age conditions, surviving by hunting the largest and most formidable Pleistocene mammals--the mammoth, wooly rhinoceros, and wild cattle. They competed with large wolves and lions in an extremely harsh Ice Age environment.
Remains of over a hundred Neanderthal individuals have been recovered, and they exibit a great variety of individual characteristics. The skull at left, dated 35,000 to 53,000 years ago, shows a distinctive pattern of wear on the teeth, suggesting that this individual wore down his teeth in an continuous, strenuous activity such as processing hides by chewing in order to make them pliable enough for clothing. If so, this would be the earliest indirect evidence for clothing.