What are the differences between Neanderthals and humans? And were those the only hominid species on the planet 30,000 years ago? AAAS member Jeffrey Schwartz challenges our assumptions about Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in this audio slideshow.
Roughly 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals went extinct after having lived successfully in Europe for thousands of years. Although the reason for their death is still debated, many point to new competition from the Cro-Magnon population that moved into Europe only shortly before. Cro-Magnon is another name for early humans, physically they are identical to modern Homo sapiens and paleo-anthropologists are finding more evidence of their intelligence and ability to create art and think symbolically just like us.
Although we have many fossils from Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens, these species were often confused and blurred together. It also has been a common assumption in the past that the human fossil record developed in a long straight line where each species evolved into the next, ultimately culminating in ourselves.
However, the fossil record today seems to contradict that idea, showing instead an amazing amount of diversity and "bushy-ness" in the human evolutionary tree.
AAAS member Jeffrey Schwartz, professor in the Departments of Anthropology and History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, has spent much of his career studying the human fossil record and how we evolved from primates into humans. He spoke with MemberCentral to point out many of the interesting features of the human fossil record, specifically the difference between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens and explores the idea that there may have been many more hominid species roaming the planet only 30,000 years ago.
Schwartz is the author of a number of books including: Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species, Extinct Humans, The Human Fossil Record, Volume One: Terminology and Craniodental Morphology of Genus Homo (Europe), The Human Fossil Record, Volume Two: Craniodental Morphology of Genus Homo (Africa and Asia), The Red Ape: Orangutans and Human Origins, The Human Fossil Record, Volume Four: Craniodental Morphology of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and Orrorin, and Skeleton Keys an introduction to human skeletal morphology, development, and analysis.
Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interbred, in fact some humans of European decent are one to four percent Neanderthal. This audio slideshow explores this topic using educational graphics.
Watch Schwartz's follow up piece which talks about the hominid species Homo Erectus and the debate within that species and how it eventually may have evolved into both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens