Were Neanderthals “Human”?

The Neanderthals are human species whose extinction happened between 39,000 and 41,000 years ago (Shreeve, 1995). As the evidence of their existence may serve the remains such as stone tools, bones and skulls found in Eurasia from Northern Asia, Western Europe, and the Middle East. Recent studies in 2010 and 2014 reveal that this human species under genus homo did contribute to the composition of genetic material of modern humans, especially non-Africans and a little bit of Africans (Stringer & Makie, 1996).

Genetic research proves that their relationship to human was close enough with difference of only 0.12% based on DNA analysis. Indisputably, the Neanderthals and modern humans possess a number of anatomical similarities that constituted their outward appearances. Nevertheless, the sense of humanity is more than phenotypic composition of the species, but rather genotypic constitution. It is critical to note that when more emphasis is laid on physical appearance than the way of life and behaviour, then even animals, especially primates, can be considered humans to a certain degree. For example, people are normally compared to savages when they kill without mercy, but they are also termed human beings when they make mistakes, recover from them and relate well with their fellow humans. The question about humanity is a vital subject because the Neanderthals had larger brains but the same number of bones. Thus, in the minds of scientists, researchers, anthropologists and readers rises a question whether those features qualify them to be humans. Therefore, it is imperative to analyze cultures and the lifestyles in determining whether the Neanderthals were attributed with qualities and features in their day to day lives that can be sufficient to qualify them as typical human beings.

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There is evidence that proves that the Neanderthals spoke languages. Speech is an important component of humanity; when a person cannot speak, it becomes difficult to live a comfortable human life. Consequently, speech implies the existence of communication that is vital in socialization, solving of conflicts and leadership. The fact that the Neanderthals could communicate implies that they lived together and perhaps even had leadership structures for order in their society.

In 1983, the Neanderthal vocal tract was accurately reconstructed after finding hyoid bone at Kebara Cave in Israel (Lieberman, 1989). This bone is the one connecting larynx to muscles of the tongue, and these structures normally brace against each other enabling laryngeal movements. The presence of hyoid bone means that it was possible for the Neanderthals to have structured speech, and that they could produce definite sets of phonemes, not just inarticulate guttural grunts, out of repertory of sounds (Shreeve, 1989). The discovered hyoid bone is virtually similar to the one modern humans have. Recently, finite element analysis and X-ray microtomoraphy was used to study structure of hyoid found in Kabera in comparison to the hyoids in modern humans (Lieberman, 1989). Thus, conclusive findings from the study revealed similarity between the human’s hyoid and the Neanderthal hyoid based on micro-chemical behaviour and histological features, proving that the two bones were used in the same way (Trinkaus & Shipman, 1992).

It is certain that their communication was not as developed as in the modern times, but it still served the same purpose. The fact that they possessed identical anatomical structures used in the speech implies that one has its potential fully exploited while being in the stage of development. Therefore, the fact that the Neanderthals possessed the ability to speak proves that the characteristics inherent in modern homo sapiens were also found in them.


The usage of tools/machines to make work easier is a quintessential aspect of humanity. Modern humans have sophisticated different instruments due to the advancement of technology while the Neanderthals also had tools to make their economic and social lifestyle easier. The sense of humanity brought out in these two is intelligence and the ability to utilize natural resources to make lives more comfortable. Animals or savages do not have skills to make such instruments. The tools the Neanderthals had were of Mousterian class, usually made of soft hammer percussion. Materials for the hammers were usually wood, bones, and antlers. Their tools were discovered in the Southern part of Ionian Greek Islands, which also proved that they were navigating the Mediterranean Sea 110,000 years ago (Shreeve, 1995). In fact, the Neanderthals could construct dugout boats tracing back to Middle Palaeolithic period (Shreeve).

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Additionally, they engaged in several sophisticated tasks linked to modern humans. For example, those people could make complex shelter, control fires and skin animals. A trap dug in Jersey at La Cotte de St Brelade provides a testament of their success and intelligence as hunters (Wolpoff & Caspari, 1997). The discovered instruments represent a characteristic of the humanity, namely always looking for solutions and various ways of simplifying tasks. Hence, the Neanderthals can be considered humans because they possessed the above qualities.


Burying of the dead illustrates grief, sympathy, pain, and existence of social ties among the Neanderthals. Humans are the ones driven by these kinds of feelings. Therefore, the fact that the Neanderthals also buried their dead is the evidence that they were humans. Furthermore, it also shows that they believed in afterlife just like modern men. However, it should be mentioned that their burial was less elaborate as compared to what modern humans do. It included bringing flowers and other forms of rituals. Thus, 5 of the 6 flowers discovered in Shanidar IV are attributed with medicinal effects even among modern population (Tattersall & Schwartz, 1994). In other cases discovered, the Neanderthal burials also included grave goods such as aurochs bones and pigment ochre. Incorporation of several activities during burials shows that those people were emotional beings just like modern humans. For instance, the use of flowers, like it happens today, depicts their conception of idea of beauty, thus making them different from homo erectus, homo habilis, etc. It also means that they valued life and had an organized system in their community that led to their gathering during burials.


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