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Noelle Tankard
For Emergence of Modern Humans
University of Bristol, Dec 2010
Neanderthal type specimen
• found in Feldhoffer grotto,
Neander Valley, 1857

• later excavations found


Image from American Museum of Natural

History, Ian Tattersall
Our understanding of Neanderthals
• Initially seen as a transitional stage through which humans

• primitive features emphasized, compared to chimpanzees

• Fossils found in other regions often labelled

“Neanderthaloid” as a generic pre-Homo sapiens category in
possession of prominent brow-ridges and low-vaulted brain
•“African Neanderthal” : Broken Hill skull, Zambia
•“Eastern Neanderthals” : Solo skulls from Java
(Trinkaus 1979)
... and with time...
• less biased interpretations grew as body of data

• definition based on from Western Europe; now

consider the “classical” or European Neanderthals

•By early 80s, commonly seen as subspecies of H.


Homo sapiens neanderthalensis

• Early genetic studies influenced trend to

reconsider phylogenetic place relative to H.
sapiens; differences from modern H. sap
• “… one can systematically examine the large
corpus of Neanderthal fossils… [with] present
knowledge of the anatomical functions of bone
and muscle… against a fuller chronological
background… the picture that emerges is quite
clear: a human population complex with a special
pattern of anatomical features that extends
without interruption from Gibraltar across Europe
into the Near East and Western Asia.”
(Trinkaus 1979, 91)
Classic Neanderthals

La Ferrassie, France: considered typical of “Classic”

Neanderthals – also among largest in Europe
The Neanderthal “clade”
• Whether species or subspecies, clear morphological group
with characteristic traits

• “Classical Neanderthals” clearly distinct from:

present day modern H. Sapiens

contemporary African H. Sapiens

European Upper Palaeolithic populations
Diagnostic traits of Neanderthals...
Neanderthal range & specimens
• “Classical” Western Europe
– France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain
– specimens in Italy and Greece sometimes referred to as “preNeanderthals”

• Eastern Europe
– Croatia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Slovenia, Slovakia

•“Levantine” and Near East

– tend to be younger than “Classical”
– also younger than H. sap in region

• Central / Western Asia

–Uzbekistan Teshik Tash, Uzbekistan
“Levantine” and Near Eastern Sites
• Term “Levantine” more common
in non-English publications
– strictly: Israel, Palestine and
Jordan while Near East stretches
from Nile to northern Iran
– Those who distinguish Levantine
from other Near Eastern with
intention to note Levant as “entry
point” (from Europe) for
Neanderthal migration “deeper” into
the Near East (Vandermeesch 2007)

• Tabun, Amud, Kebara (Israel)

• Shanidar (Iraq)
• Dederiyeh (Syria)
Interest in the Levant…
• Long recognized as most likely place to find evidence of
Neanderthal and H. sap interaction – behavioural and/or
• Chronologically, H. sap populations older than Neanderthal
• Therefore, most analysis and study aimed at Levantine
Neanderthals vs Levantine H. sapiens
– Skhul and Qafzeh: debate over classification of fossils found, number of
species represented
- 9 skeletons

Shanidar 1
35-40 yrs old at death

survived serious injuries

excavated 50s-60s

ca 40-79 ky, but dates


Shanidar 1
Amud 1

- 1.8 m tall, 1740 cc

Approx 25 yrs at death


ESR on mammal tooth at


40-50 kyr

Affinity to Shanidar

“Mosaic” features
1.7 m

25-35 yr at death

ca 60 ka

Possible burial

Similar to Amud, Shanidar,

and Tabun but more robust

Hyoid bone
• C2 Mandible
– Ambiguous, but Neanderthal
• Tabun C, partial skeleton of
– Possibly oldest Near Eastern
– Excavated 1932; stratigraphic
position controversial and dating
– Skull fractured
• Dederiyeh 1
– Infant
– ca 60 ky

Images from Akazawa’s website, reconstruction of find and “resuscitation” of find

Computer model of maturation of
Dederiyeh infant (to adult based
on Amud 1)
Vandermeesch 2007
• Majority of “Classic” traits – although not all to the same
“degree of development”
• Several features characterized as “entering the range of
modern human variation”
– Higher skull
– Transverse contour less oval
• Suprainiac fossa larger, less deep
• Less occipital bunning than “Classical”
– occipital less convex and occipital torus less prominent
– Overall “less stretched”

Other features described as “intermediate” between
“Classic” Neanderthal and mod H. sap

Less facial

Cranial capacity
varies widely

Males taller

From Trinkaus 1979

…. Traits to distinguish from a H. sap

• Supraorbital torus
Not all of these traits appear in

• Occipital bunning
the same degree and same
• Facial prognathism
• Long low brain case
• Larger cranial capacity
Homologous or derived?

• Receding frontal

Absolute or continuum?

Suprainiac fossa
• retromolar space
Same “effect” can occur as a

….. And others

result of various “processes”:
occipital bunning (Gunz 2007)
Further questions
• What is the significance of these differences?

• How to explain them?

– Temporal variation: co-evolution into
Neanderthal form separate from “Classical”:
• Earlier split from pre-Neanderthal population?
– Geographical variation?
• Reversal of “cold climate” traits?
– Hybridization with moderns?
• Are the Levantine Neanderthals more Homo
sapiens – or simply less “Classical”?
Comparative analyses with Levantine
H. sapiens specimens….
... fail to demonstrate clear and definitive difference
between Neanderthals and “moderns”

Kramer 2001: tested null hypothesis of two clades in

Levant (Amud/Tabun vs Qafzeh/Skhul)

Wolpoff 2001: failed to disprove null hypothesis that

taxonomy did not explain variation of sample overall BUT
that variation within Qafzeh/Skhul was greater than
variation comparing that sample to Levantine
• Traits generally discussed as if a complete package, the
Neanderthal “pattern” - specimens lacking all or some
often dismissed as unclassifiable

• We are over-simplifying the situation by deliberately

disregarding that which does not fit a perhaps arbitrary
prefabricated designation

• How much variation within what level of taxonomic clade?

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