Let’s learn about Neandertals

These extinct cousins of modern humans were smarter than you might think

a man wearing furs carries a young girl on his shoulders

Evidence suggests that Neandertals (illustrated) were social people. Research shared in Nature in 2022, for instance, suggests that about 60,000 years ago, Neandertals in Central Asia lived in small groups of close relatives.

Tom Bjorklund

The word “Neandertal” is sometimes used as an insult. But Neandertals were hardly dumb brutes. These extinct cousins of modern humans made clothes, jewelry and tools. They controlled fires and hunted animals. They even seem to have used natural forms of medicine and buried their dead.

Neandertals were part of the same genus as modern humans. Modern people are of the species Homo sapiens. Neandertals made up the closely related species Homo neanderthalensis. They were around about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Neandertals lived in Europe and Asia. For thousands of years, their territory overlapped with that of our species. In those areas, some Neandertals mated with modern humans. As a result, Neandertal DNA makes up a few percent of the genetic material in many modern humans. So Neandertals may be extinct, but their legacy lives on in people today.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Neandertals were a lot like our human ancestors From toolmaking to healthcare, new research finds that Neandertals shared many cultural and social similarities with our human ancestors. (1/19/2023) Readability: 6.3

Watching meat rot helps decode what Neandertals ate One scientist has measured the chemical makeup of decaying meat. She’s comparing it against what’s in fossil bones to figure out what Neandertals ate. (1/28/2019) Readability: 7.4

Researchers role-played as Neandertals to learn how they hunted birds By pretending to be Neandertals, researchers showed that the ancient hominids likely had the skills to hunt crowlike birds called choughs. (11/21/2021) Readability: 6.5

About 2 percent of many people’s DNA comes from Neandertals. What are the effects? SciShow explores.

Explore more

Scientists Say: Neandertal

Scientists Say: Genus

Scientists Say: Species

Scientists Say: DNA

Neandertal toe contains human DNA

Fossils point to Neandertal diets — and medicine use

Fiery tests suggest gooey tech by Neandertals

Europe’s ancient humans often hooked up with Neandertals

Examining Neandertal and Denisovan DNA wins a 2022 Nobel Prize

Some Neandertal genes may up the risk of severe COVID-19

Our species may have reached Europe while Neandertals were there

Just a tiny share of the DNA in us is unique to humans


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For a look at some of the remains that have taught us about our extinct cousins, check out the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s online gallery of Neandertal fossils.

Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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