Scientists Say: Neandertal

Neandertals were an ancient species closely related to modern humans


This is a skull from a Neandertal. It looks similar to a modern human skull, but Neandertals were a different species from us.

NCSSM/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Neandertal or Neanderthal (noun, “nee-ANN-der-tal” or “nee-ANN-der-thal”)

The skeleton on the left is a model of a Neandertal skeleton. On the right is an artist’s idea of what a Neandertal might have looked like.
Photaro/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This is an extinct species that is in the same genus as modern humans. Modern humans belong to Homo sapiens. Neandertals are classified as Homo neanderthalensis. Neandertals lived in Europe and parts of Asia from around 200,000 to 28,000 years ago. They were a little shorter and squatter than people are now. Though some people now use “Neandertal” as an insult, evidence suggests Neandertals were clever and talented. For instance, Neandertals could use tools and wore jewelry. And in places where they overlapped with H. sapiens, some Neandertals mated with local humans. Scientists have found the evidence of those matings: Many modern people carry small bits of Neandertal DNA.

In a sentence

Neandertals could make their own tools, using tar to help stick spearheads on to handles.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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