NEANDERTHALS ARE STILL HUMAN!
- IMPACT No.
323 May 2000
by Dave Phillips*
2002 Institute for Creation Research. All Rights
Since the first Neanderthal fossil was discovered in the middle
of the last century, their remains have been highly controversial.
By the mid 1950s, some scientists were beginning to argue
convincingly that Neanderthals are a sub species of modern humans
(Homo sapiens) (Lewin, 1998), citing a wealth of evidence to
support the view that Neanderthals were human.
Some evolutionists have claimed that Neanderthals were incapable
of modern speech, lacking the ability to produce the full range of
vowels (Lieberman and Crelin, 1971; Trinkaus and Shipman, 1992),
with flat non-flexing at the base of the skull, and the larynx
positioned higher in the throat than in modern humans or even
chimpanzees. The result of this computer reconstruction was that the
resonating chamber at the back of the mouth was all but eliminated.
Many of these arguments have now been thoroughly refuted. A new
and updated reconstruction done in 1989 by paleoanthropologist
Jean-Louis Heim showed an essentially modern human flexation of the
base of the skull (Trinkaus and Shipman, 1992; Shreeve, 1995). More
recently, the La Chapelle skull was compared to a sample of modern
human specimens from the middle ages and found to be quite human
In 1983 one of the most complete Neanderthal skeletons ever found
was discovered at Kebara in the Levant, which included the first
fossil hyoid bone of a Neanderthal ever discovered. This bone is
located in the throat and is directly related to the structure of
the human vocal tract and is indistinguishable from that of modern
humans (Arensburg et al., 1987).
A Neanderthal brain volume equals or exceeds modern human
dimensions (Deacon, 1994), ranging from about 1200_1750 ml, and thus
on the average about 100 ml larger than modern humans (Stringer and
Gamble, 1993). Holloway (1985: 320) has stated "I believe the
Neanderthal brain was fully Homo, with no essential
differences in its organization compared to our own."
Although there is no direct correlation between brain size and
intelligence, Neanderthal brain volume certainly does not support
views that argue for an evolutionary expansion of "Hominid" brains.
Neanderthal anatomy is essentially human in scope, with the same
number of bones as humans, which function in the same manner
(Trinkaus and Shipman, 1992). However, there are minor differences
in robusticity (thickness and strength). These differences are
trivial and can be found on an individual basis in modern living
populations (Lewin, 1998). Although there is no formal agreement of
which physical characteristics are diagnostic of Neanderthal
morphology, a suite of traits have been used to distinguish
Neanderthal morphology. Cranial traits are listed in the table
Still one may wonder why the entire suite of traits are not found
in modern populations, but consider that Neanderthals typically
lived in extremely cold climate areas, genetically isolated by a
post-flood ice age. That would have directly affected their anatomy
and physiology (Stringer and Gamble, 1993).
Two ecological rules describe the relationship between the size
and the shape of the extremities (limbs) and trunk anatomy.
Burgmann's rule regarding surface area postulates that body weight
tends to be larger in cold climates. With two bodies of similar
shape, the larger will have less surface area per unit of volume and
will retain heat better in cold climates. Allen's rule suggests that
body limbs will be shorter in cold climates, reducing surface area
that results in less heat loss. This is seen in the short tails,
ears, or beaks in many animals living in cold climates. Humans that
live in cold climates, such as Eskimos, are typically larger with
shorter arms and legs. Since Neanderthals lived in near arctic
conditions in many cases, one would expect them to have a stocky
body build and short extremities (arms and legs) (Holliday, 1997).
In fact, the limbs of Neanderthals from the warmer climates of
Southwest Asia are relatively longer than the limbs of those living
in ice-age Europe. When Neanderthal limb proportions, based on a
mean index of tibia/femur length, called Crural Index, are plotted
against mean annual temperatures. Neanderthals appear to be even
more cold-adapted in their limb proportions than modern Eskimos and
Lapps (Stringer and Gamble 1993; Stringer and Mckie, 1996).
In addition, Neanderthals lived a life style that put rigorous
demands on their bodies as seen from numerous skeletal lesions, many
the result of traumatic bone breakage. (Trinkaus and Shipman, 1992.)
Further, it has recently been suggested, based on intense dental
study, that Neanderthals may have had a greater longevity than
modern populations. This may have also affected their anatomy
There are a large number of cultural habits that distance Homo
sapiens from animals. No other organisms, either living or
fossil, made tools to make other complex tools, buried their dead,
had controlled use of fire, practiced religious ceremonies, used
complex syntax in their spoken grammar, and played musical
instruments, yet we know from their fossils that Neanderthal engaged
Deliberate burial of Neanderthal remains is well known from at
least 36 sites with a geographical distribution over most of Eurasia
(Gowlett, 1994), with at least 20 complete skeletons known (Lewin,
1998). Some graves have stone tools, animal bones, and flowers
buried in the ground, along with the Neanderthal remains. At the
Uzbekistan Neanderthal site of Teshik-Tash, is a boy's grave
surrounded by a ring of mountain goat bones, horns, and levallois
tools indicating ritualism of some sort. Burial is known to have
occurred in an unnatural posture, which demonstrates that a corpse
was not simply dropped into a hole in the earth without preparation
(Trinkaus and Shipman, 1992). Burial implies an awareness of the
after life and demonstrates the existence of formal ritual.
Indication of strong social ties can be inferred from cases where
Neanderthal individuals with severe crippling injuries were cared
for (i.e., the Shanidar remains).
In 1996, pristine evidence of Neanderthal humanness came to
light, when a cave in Slovenia produced a small flute made from the
thigh bone of a cave bear. Four precisely aligned holes are
punctured on one side of the four-inch-long bone (Folger and Menon,
1997). Thus cultural evidence strongly supports Neanderthal
Neanderthal (mitochondrial) DNA
The recent recovery of mitochondrial DNA from the right humerus
of the Neanderthal remains from Neander Valley near Dusseldorf,
Germany, has been of great interest to evolutionists and
creationists alike (Krings et al., 1997).
Based on the comparison of modern human mt DNA and that taken
from the Neanderthal, evolutionists have argued that the
"Neanderthal line" diverged from the line of "hominids" leading to
modern humans about 600,000 years B.P. without contributing mt DNA
to modern Homo sapiens populations. This strongly implies
that Neanderthals were a different species from modern humans.
However, the above noted interpretation is not scientifically
justified. Lubenow (1998) has pointed out that the use of a
statistical average of a large modern human sample (994 sequences
from 1669 modern humans) compared with the mt DNA sequence from one
Neanderthal is not appropriate. Furthermore, the mt DNA sequence
differences among modern humans range from 1 to 24 substitutions,
with an average of eight substitutions, whereas, the mt DNA sequence
differences between modern man and the Neanderthal specimen range
from 22 to 36 substitutions, placing Neanderthals, at worst, on the
fringes of the modern range.
Neanderthals were human. They buried their dead, used tools, had
a complex social structure, employed language, and played musical
instruments. Neanderthal anatomy differences are extremely minor and
can be for the most part explained as a result of a genetically
isolated people that lived a rigorous life in a harsh, cold climate.
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* Dave Phillips earned the M.S. in physical anthropology
from California State University, Northridge, in 1991 and is now working on
his Ph.D. in paleontology.