Scientists Say: Neandertal | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Neandertal

Neandertals were an ancient species closely related to modern humans
Oct 1, 2018 — 6:30 am EST
Neandertal skull

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”)

neandertal man
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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Power Words

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DNA     (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) A long, double-stranded and spiral-shaped molecule inside most living cells that carries genetic instructions. It is built on a backbone of phosphorus, oxygen, and carbon atoms. In all living things, from plants and animals to microbes, these instructions tell cells which molecules to make.

extinct     An adjective that describes a species for which there are no living members.

genus     (plural: genera) A group of closely related species. For example, the genus Canis — which is Latin for “dog” — includes all domestic breeds of dog and their closest wild relatives, including wolves, coyotes, jackals and dingoes.

Homo     A genus of species that includes modern humans (Homo sapiens). All had large brains and used tools. This genus is believed to have first evolved in Africa and over time evolved and radiated throughout the rest of the world.

Neandertal     A species (Homo neanderthalensis) that lived in Europe and parts of Asia from about 200,000 years ago to roughly 28,000 years ago.

species     A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

tar     A thick, viscous black flammable goo derived from coal or wood. It consists of a range of hydrocarbons, resins, alcohols and more.

tool     An object that a person or other animal makes or obtains and then uses to carry out some purpose such as reaching food, defending itself or grooming.