By Andrea Vianello, University of Sheffield
Homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthal, is a human species known to science since 1856, when the first fossils were discovered in the Feldhof cave in the Neander Valley, Germany. Neanderthals lived across Europe and parts of west and central Asia from approximately 230,000 to 29,000 years ago (Middle Palaeolithic) and coexisted with anatomically modern humans (AMH, or Homo sapiens) with whom they shared their material culture.
Neanderthaler und Co. is the official website of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of Neanderthals and contains downloadable PDFs of historical papers as well as information on recent and forthcoming conferences, such as: 150 Years of Neanderthal Discoveries: Early Europeans – Continuity and Discontinuity, July 21-26 2006, Bonn, Germany. Important projects include TNT – The Neanderthal Tools project
Neanderthals were hunters and gatherers, who produced and used Mousterian; Levallois and Chatelperronian stone tools. There is evidence of symbolism, art and occasional burials associated with Neanderthal remains. Genetic research confirms anatomical observations: Neanderthals and AMH were two different species. The coexistence of two different human species in Europe until so late in human history has posed problems not just for archaeologists: moral, religious, racist and other issues have affected the study of Neanderthals, who are still poorly understood.
Recent research and discoveries are proving that Neanderthals were a human species separate from AMH and demonstrating that any evolutionary disadvantage that Neanderthals may have had in competing with AMH were more subtle than previously thought.
In 2006 substantial amounts of Neanderthal DNA have been sequenced and analysed by researchers. The journal Nature has published online a special section on the recent discoveries, with interviews to the researchers and video footage available for free.
The listed links include the official web page of Neanderthals' eponymous site, a few overviews of their cultural and anatomic characteristics and other sites related to the Neanderthal/AMH shared material culture: