The fossil that didn’t want to be Neanderthal

Today, the existence of our evolutionary companions, the Neanderthals, seems irrefutable to us. However, when their remains began to emerge, the scientific community categorically refused to recognize they were facing a new species.

In 1856, some quarry workers found a set of bones inside the Feldhofer cave, located in Neander valley (where the name of the species comes from), near the city of Düsseldorf (Germany, former Prussia). However, these bones had atypical features. Among them was a cranial vault with strange and conspicuous protuberances above the eye sockets and a very short forehead.

Cranial vault found in Feldhofer cave, Neander valley. Donsmaps

In the 19th century, the existence of “fossil men” was not even contemplated, so it was argued that those bones must have belonged to a Mongolian Cossack who got lost chasing the Napoleonic armies. Those pronounced eyebrows were merely the result of an intense rickets that would have deformed that part of the skull.

Skeleton of the Neanderthal found in Feldhofer cave. Donsmaps

The rest, as it is said, is history. Today we know that Homo neanderthalensis was a species with highly developed intelligence and sensitivity. They watched over their dead, made ornaments, performed funerary rituals, represented abstract ideas on the walls of caves, knew the medicinal use of certain plants… From being considered grotesque barbarians they have become more like us than we have ever imagined…

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