Neandertals were the first fossil hominins discovered and, since then, have been the most studied. However, it is only in the last two decades that entirely new techniques have made new and fascinating insights into their biology and behavior possible.
Beyond their odd anatomy, we are now able to explore the mechanisms of their birth and growth, the way their brains developed, and the chemical signals left in their bones from their diet. The decoding of their genome has opened a new era in paleoanthropology.
Ultimately, understanding the rise and the fall of the Neandertals will help us to elucidate the unrivaled evolutionary success of our own species.
Jean-Jacques Hublin, Ph.D., is currently a Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany), where he serves as the Director of the Department of Human Evolution. He has also been an honorary Professor at the University of Leipzig since 2004. Initially his research focused on the origin and evolution of Neanderthals and he has proposed an accretion model for the emergence of the Neandertal lineage that roots it in time in the middle of the middle Pleistocene.
He also worked on the processes associated with the emergence of Homo sapiens and on the interactions between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans in Europe. He developed the use of medical and virtual imaging in the reconstruction and study of fossil hominids and paid attention to growth and development issues. He has led field operations in North Africa, Spain and France.
In addition to his scientific papers, he has regularly published popular books (with translations in English, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese) and articles on the subjects of Neanderthal and early modern human evolution.
Dr. Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology details a recent and curious discovery of a possible genetic integration between Neanderthals and modern humans around 60,000 years ago.
Species of the human genus (Homo) that inhabited much of Europe and the Mediterranean lands c. 200,00028,000 years ago. The name derives from the discovery in 1856 of remains in a cave above Germany's Neander Valley. Some scholars designate the species as Homo neanderthalensis and do not consider Neanderthals direct ancestors of modern humans (Homo sapiens). Others regard them as a late archaic form of H. sapiens that was absorbed into modern human populations in some areas while simply dying out in others. Neanderthals were short, stout, and powerful. Cranial capacity equaled or surpassed that of modern humans, though their braincases were long, low, and wide. Their limbs were heavy, but they seem to have walked fully erect and had hands as capable as those of modern humans. They were cave dwellers who used fire, wielded stone tools and wooden spears to hunt animals, buried their dead, and cared for their sick or injured. They may have used language and may have practiced a primitive form of religion. See alsoMousterian industry.
The side-by-side picture of the H. Sapien vs. Neanderthal was confusing to me. At 09:15 , he seems to describing the H. Sapien on the right, but the slide is labeled backward ("H.Sapien/Neanderthal" on the slide), and he never gives another verbal clue to which is which. Is the H. Sapien skull on the right or left? If on the right, why would anyone giving a talk, showing slides, NOT label them in correct left-right order of how they're displayed? (Update: I have since googled pictures of the skulls side-by-side, and indeed, the H. Sapien is on the right - goofy!)