One complication among many: Neanderthal Man

The Neanderthal people were more than pre-human, but they are not just a slightly different variety or race of Homo sapiens.. The many questions surrounding their relationship with Homo sapiens and their origin remain largely unanswered. The uncertainty is reflected in the scientific nomenclature: Neanderthals are called either Homo neanderthalensis (if they are regarded as relatively distantly related to modern humans) or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis if they are thought to be closely related. It is possible but not proven that the Neanderthals represent an out-of-Africa migration that pre-dates the human Great Migration. However, no Neanderthal-like forms have been found in Africa.

The definition of the species Homo neanderthalensis has been stretched by some researchers to cover more or less of what we include under other Homo species (rhodessiensis, heidelbergensis, erectus). Under our definition, what can be called “classical” Neanderthal man has not been found outside Europe and Western Asia. The matter of how the various species of early humanoid groups can be classified and how they might be related to each other is a complex and controversial area. But happily it is not one that needs to concern us too much here.


The Neanderthals were stocky, muscular and very well adapted to a cold climate. It is far from clear where they acquired this adaptation. Perhaps they developed in their little-known eastern ranges that seem to have stretched as far as modern Afghanistan and the high mountains of the Hindukush. But not much evidence has been found to support this and the question of where Homo neanderthalensis first developed remains open.

The Great Human Migration must have begun to intrude into Neanderthal territory from before 70,000 years ago. What happened when the two groups met can only be guessed at. What little evidence there is does not speak for amicable relations. There is no evidence of mixing. On the other hand there is plenty of evidence that over tens of thousands of years, the Neanderthals retreated (were pushed?) towards the west. Their last known traces were found in a cave near Gibraltar, dated to 24,000 years ago.

Since the extinction of the Neanderthals, Homo sapiens has been the only living Homo species.

Next: Past environmental changes and human development