The Quick Report

Turns Out Neanderthals Were Just as Smart as Us

The next time you want to insult your buddy’s intelligence by calling him a Neanderthal, you’d better think again. A 20-year study has found that Neanderthals were just as smart as us!

What are Neanderthals?

When people think of Neanderthals, the image that comes to mind is of a caveman wearing a shaggy animal hide. A description that arose in the early 20th century.

Neanderthals are a now-extinct species or subspecies of humans. They lived in Eurasia until about 40,000 years ago, according to science. 

Scientists are unclear when the line of Neanderthals split away from that of modern humans, but offer a wide range between 315,000 to more than 800,000 years ago.

The reasons why Neanderthals went extinct remain in dispute.

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Study Finds Neanderthals Just as Smart as Homo Sapiens

Strike Neanderthals from your list of insults to use when you want to call someone dumb. The long-perceived notion of Neanderthals being less intelligent than Homo sapiens has just been proven wrong by science.

An international group of archaeologists spent more than twenty years between 1989 in 2012 on a study that has completely rewritten everything science formally believed about the intelligence of Neanderthals.


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The study was led and supervised by three archaeologists. Mariana Nabais (IPHES, Catalan Institute for Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution, Tarragona), João Zilhão (University of Lisbon), and Diego Angelucci (UniTrento), co-authored the study. SciTechDaily reported. 

The researchers made excavations in caves, particularly the Gruta de Oliveira in central Portugal. This is considered among the most important European archaeological sites for the Middle Palaeolithic. The researchers believe Neanderthals inhabited the vast network of caves going back 70,000 to 100,000 years ago.

What the Researchers Found

Researchers determined that Neanderthals, not only knew how to control fire but used it to cook food. The researchers were able to glean further insight into the habits and diet of Neanderthals by evidence found near hearths.

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Artistic Expression

“Neanderthals were capable of symbolic thought, could create artistic objects, knew how to decorate their bodies using personal ornaments, and had an extremely varied diet,” archaeologist Diego Angelucci explained. “Add to that that, based on our findings, we can say with certainty that they habitually ate cooked food. This ability confirms that they were as skilled as the sapiens who lived millennia later.”

The Quest for Fire

“There is a general agreement among archaeologists that they knew how to use fire,” Angelucci continued. “However, one thing is to use fire started by natural processes, such as lightning, another is to make it, feed it with wood, and use it for cooking, heating, and defense.

“In this study, we demonstrate that there is no doubt that Neanderthals could make a fire and that fire was a central element in their daily life,” Angelucci added.

The Neanderthal Diet

Researchers found a wide array of evidence of the varied diet of Neanderthals.

“We found the remains and burnt bones of cooked goats, deer, horses, aurochs (extinct bulls), rhinos, and turtles, which were probably laid on their carapace and stewed on hot stones,” Angelucci said. “Meat was on the menu in this inland cave, but in other excavations in caves overlooking the western Mediterranean Sea near Cartagena (Spain), remains of fish, mussels, and mollusks, even roasted pine nuts, were found.”