“You’re such a Neanderthal!” A wealth of archaeological evidence has destroyed the stereotype of the dumb Neanderthal; our evolutionary cousins made tar, sailed the open seas, created works of art, and even may have had language. An unbiased interpretation of the paleontological evidence leads to only one conclusion: Neanderthals were the cognitive equals of our human ancestors.
Neanderthals went extinct about 40,000 years ago, the same time that Homo sapiens first showed up in Europe and Asia (the realm of the Neanderthals). For that reason, many used to (and still) argue that Homo sapiens beat out Neanderthals and, in fact, led to their extinction because we were smarter and better. We almost certainly did not prevail where Neanderthals failed because we were smarter, and while it is difficult to accept, Homo sapiens may have prospered due to blind luck. The disappearance of the Neanderthals thus remains one of the most intriguing evolutionary mysteries scientists face today.
One thing, however, is certain. Next time a friend of yours aces a test or lands that promotion, be sure to tell him “you’re such a Neanderthal!” He should be flattered.
Enough of the cheap jibes: Neanderthals may have been just as clever as modern humans. Anthropologists have already demolished the idea that Neanderthals were dumb brutes, and now a review of the archaeological record suggests they were our equals.