Meaning of NEANDERTHAL in English

also spelled Neandertal, early form of Homo sapiens (q.v.) that inhabited much of Europe and the Mediterranean lands during the late Pleistocene Epoch, about 100,000 to 30,000 years ago. Neanderthal remains have also been found in the Middle East, North Africa, and western Central Asia. The name derives from the discovery in 1856 of the first remains of the type in a cave above the Neander Valley in Germany, not far from Dsseldorf. The remains immediately caused a lively controversy as to whether they were remains of ancient humans or merely bones of modern humans distorted by disease. The origins of Neanderthals cannot be established with any certainty. Forerunners of Neanderthal peoples may date to some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. Skull fragments found in France are of that age, but they have characteristics more like modern Homo sapiens than like the earlier H. erectus who, chronologically, should be Neanderthal's forerunner. However, Neanderthals were probably a product of the last (Riss-Wrm) interglacial stage (75,000 to 115,000 years ago) in Europe. Jaws, teeth, and skull parts have been found in many places in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain that are unquestionably recognizable as Neanderthalian. The last (Wrm) glacial stage in Europe was about 10,000 to 70,000 years ago, and it is from those times that the most numerous skeletal remains of Neanderthals have been found. These have given some idea of Neanderthal physiognomy and habits. Neanderthals were short, stout, and powerful in build. Cranial capacity equaled or surpassed that of modern humans, though their braincases were long, low, and wide and flattened behind. Their faces had heavy browridges, large teeth, and small cheekbones. The chest was broad, and the limbs were heavy, with large feet and hands. The Neanderthals appear to have walked in a more irregular, lateral fashion than do modern humans. The Neanderthals were cave dwellers, although they occasionally built camps in the open air. They wore clothing, used fire, hunted small and medium-sized animals (e.g., goats and small deer), and scavenged from the kills of large carnivores. They made and used a variety of stone tools and wooden spears. Their tool culture is known as the Mousterian industry (q.v.). The Neanderthals were the first hominids to intentionally bury their dead, both individually and in groups, and they also cared for sick or injured individuals. Evidence of ritualistic treatment of animals, which are sometimes found with human skeletons, may indicate that they practiced a primitive form of religion. Evidence from a few sites indicates that Neanderthals coexisted for several thousand years with the modern humans (i.e., Cro-Magnons) that were living in Europe by 35,000 years ago. The nature of the Neanderthals' demise is no better understood than that of their evolutionary origins. They were certainly replaced by Cro-Magnons, but whether they were absorbed by the Cro-Magnons or simply died out in competition with them is unknown. The taxonomic classification of the Neanderthals is still being debated. Originally they were classed as a separate species (H. neanderthalensis), and subsequently they were thought to represent a subspecies of H. sapiens (H. sapiens neanderthalensis); some workers, however, have begun to favour the original designation.

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