Official: Neanderthal Man was not a hairy oaf but a sensitive kinda guy

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The Independent Online

The world's archetypal cave-man is being reborn, 150 years after he was first discovered in a cave in north-western Germany.

A team of American scientists have reconstructed the most complete Neanderthal ever. And instead of the angry, ape-like figure of popular imagination, he emerges as a family man, in touch with his emotions. But a dislike of long-distance travel may eventually have consigned him to extinction.

The "new" caveman - built using bones from seven incomplete skeletons discovered in six different countries - has been constructed just months ahead of the official celebrations to mark the Neanderthal anniversary.

Although bits of at least 100 Neanderthals have been discovered by archaeologists over the past 15 decades, nobody has ever found a complete skeleton.

Put together by physical anthropologists Gary Sawyer and Blaine Maley at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, the reconstruction is helping to change the balance of academic argument as to how the most mysterious of our near relatives lived their lives.

The new work is helping to confirm that Neanderthals were almost certainly inferior to anatomically modern humans in long-distance mobility. Indeed some archaeologists are now beginning to think that this handicap was ultimately partially to blame for them becoming extinct. It backs up those scholars who have argued that Neanderthals were poor long-distance runners and were likely to have been unsuited to pursuing prey efficiently over long distances.

By showing how all the bones fit together and function as a whole - and by comparing the reconstructed skeleton with skeletons of our own species, Homo sapiens - it will now be easier to formulate ideas as to how Neanderthals must have functioned economically and socially in different ways to anatomically modern humans.

Whereas Homo sapiens was able to pursue prey over very long distances, Neanderthals appear to have been markedly less able to do so and would probably therefore have had to have been more confrontational with their potential dinners.

As a consequence, Neanderthal males were probably away from their families for shorter periods than Homo sapiens - and it is likely that family structures and relationships between males and females may well have been markedly different.

"The reconstruction strengthens the case for regarding Neanderthals as representing a different species with their own survival strategies compared to those of Homo sapiens," said Professor Chris Stringer, head of the Human Origins Research Programme at London's Natural History Museum.

"The work shows how different strategies resulted from and reinforced different evolutionary paths," said Professor Stringer, author of a recent book on hominid prehistory, The Complete World of Human Evolution.

Teams of archaeologists from Britain, France, Spain, Japan, Russia and Syria are investigating Neanderthal sites in the Caucasus, Western Europe, the Middle East and North Africa - and their researches are likely to shed further light on Homo neanderthalensis in the near future.

THE CARING TYPE

Date of birth: The earliest Neanderthals arrived around 400,000 years ago.

Place of birth: Location unknown.

Address: Spread over Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Average height: 5ft-6ft. Weight: 140-180lbs.

Average build: Squat and broad.

Athletic prowess: Poor long-distance runner and walker.

Lots of brute strength. Right arm significantly stronger than left.

Intellect: Not too brainy, but capable of much love and care .

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