Clever Neanderthals

‘Neanderthal’ has been used as a derogatory term in the past, but we now know that our closest-co-species interbred with us and we all retain some of their genes – we are part Neanderthal, and share a common ancestor.

A piece of string found in France that could only have been used by Neanderthals is over twice as old as the oldest piece of twine connected to humans.

National Geographic: Why Am I Neanderthal?

When our ancestors first migrated out of Africa around 70,000 years ago, they were not alone. At that time, at least two other species of hominid cousins walked the Eurasian landmass—Neanderthals and Denisovans. As our modern human ancestors migrated through Eurasia, they encountered the Neanderthals and interbred. Because of this, a small amount of Neanderthal DNA was introduced into the modern human gene pool.

Everyone living outside of Africa today has a small amount of Neanderthal in them, carried as a living relic of these ancient encounters. A team of scientists comparing the full genomes of the two species concluded that most Europeans and Asians have approximately 2 percent Neanderthal DNA. Indigenous sub-Saharan Africans have none, or very little Neanderthal DNA because their ancestors did not migrate through Eurasia.

On one level, it’s not surprising that modern humans were able to interbreed with their close cousins. According to one theory, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and all modern humans are all descended from the ancient human Homo heidelbergensis. Between 500,000 to 600,000 years ago, an ancestral group of H. heidelbergensis left Africa and then split shortly after. One branch ventured northwestward into West Asia and Europe and became the Neanderthals. The other branch moved east, becoming Denisovans. By 250,000 years ago H. heidelbergensis in Africa had become Homo sapiens. Our modern human ancestors did not begin their own exodus from Africa until about 70,000 years ago, when they expanded into Eurasia and encountered their ancient cousins.

New Scientist: Oldest ever piece of string was made by Neanderthals 50,000 years ago

A piece of 50,000-year-old string found in a cave in France is the oldest ever discovered. It suggests that Neanderthals knew how to twist fibres together to make cords – and, if so, they might have been able to craft ropes, clothes, bags and nets.

Neanderthal string

String under a microscope
M-H Moncel

“None can be done without that initial step,” says Bruce Hardy at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. “Twisted fibres are a foundational technology.”

His team has been excavating the Abri du Maras caves in south-east France where Neanderthals lived for long periods. Three metres below today’s surface, in a layer that is between 52,000 and 41,000 years old, it found a stone flake, a sharp piece of rock used as an early stone tool.

“It is exactly what you would see if you picked up a piece of string today,” says Hardy. The string wasn’t necessarily used to attach the stone tool to a handle. It could have been part of a bag or net, the team speculates.

The string appears to be made of bast fibres from the bark of conifer trees, which helps establish that it isn’t a stray bit of modern string, because “nobody at the site was wearing their conifer pants at the time”, says Hardy.

Reuters:  Ancient string provides further evidence of Neanderthals talents

Neanderthals used plant fibers to create string more than 40,000 years ago at a site in France where they hunted reindeer, further evidence according to scientists of the ingenuity and cognitive capabilities of our closest extinct human relatives.

The string dates to an occupation by Neanderthals at the Abri du Maras archeological site in southeastern France, 30 miles (50 km) north of Avignon, between 42,000 and 52,000 years ago, where they apparently hunted reindeer during seasonal migrations.

Other studies have shown Neanderthals used complex group hunting methods, may have used spoken language, used pigments probably for body painting, used symbolic objects and may have buried their dead with flowers. They disappeared a few thousand years after Homo sapiens swept through their Eurasian homelands roughly 40,000 years ago.


It is unclear when Neanderthals split from modern humans; DNA studies have produced results ranging from 182 kya to more than 800 kya. The time of divergence of Neanderthals from their ancestor H. heidelbergensis is also unclear. The oldest potential Neanderthal bones are dated to 430 kya, but the classification is uncertain. Neanderthals are known from numerous fossils, especially from after 130 kya. The type specimenNeanderthal 1, was found in 1856 in the German Neander Valley.

Neanderthals were capable of articulate speech, though it is unclear how complex their language would have been.

Sites where Neanderthals have been found:

I see one site from an area some of my ancestors came from – The oldest people in Wales – Neanderthal teeth from Pontnewydd Cave

Excavations at the cave by Amgueddfa Cymru between 1978 and 1995 unearthed a total of 19 teeth, discovered found deep inside the cave. These have been identified by experts at the Natural History Museum, London as belonging to an early form of Neanderthal.

Study of the remains found at Pontnewydd found that these teeth represent the remains of at least five individuals.

That’s not where my lot came from, the dot can’t be accurate.

The teeth were not found on their own inside the cave. Alongside them were stone tools and animal bones, some of which show signs of butchery – evidence that these were the food remains of these early Neanderthals.

Reconstruction painting showing Early Neanderthal Man

Reconstruction of one of our ancestors (actually of a Croatian Neanderthal at the Zagros Palaeolithic Museum):
A Neanderthal man with olive skin, long black hair going down to his shoulders, long eyelashes, brown eyes, some chest hair, and a 5 o'clock shadow


Leave a comment


  1. Griff.

     /  20th April 2020

  2. Blazer

     /  20th April 2020

    my next door neighbour looks just like the bloke in the last pic.

    Hard to distinguish Neanderthals from humans.

    Most of the theories are just educated guesses ….

  3. Conspiratoor

     /  20th April 2020

    Neanderthals were ancient humans who interbred with modern humans before becoming extinct 40,000 years ago. So if you can’t find your dot pg I wouldn’t sweat it, you may not be part neanderthal at all.

    I was agreeably surprised to find I’m almost 4% neanderthal which is more than 72% of 23andme customers

    • Blazer

       /  20th April 2020

      only must have got off lightly Con…..slightly grazed knuckles!

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  20th April 2020

    This definitely accounts for some women’s choice of men.

  5. A book I have about the Neandertals is very fussy about the spelling; it’s NeanderTal, not Thal. I don’t think that the Neanderthals would have cared one way or the other. I don’t, either.


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