Neandertals Necklace

2920 Words12 Pages
The Neandertal's Necklace
For much of recorded human history, it was assumed that Europe had given rise to the first humans who migrated across the globe. Though this assumption was shown to be false, Europe was the home to one unique early hominid, the Neandertal. But the Neandertal's evolutionary branch emerged in a relatively recent time period, predated by many more primitive hominid forms.
"The first vertebrate fossils are more than 450 million years old... the first mammals are more that 220 million years old... [our line of hominids] is no more than a measly five or six million years old." (5-6) Nonetheless, within the hominids' relatively small time period there has been a wealth of genera and species that together create an only slightly-fuzzy line to ourselves as modern homo sapiens. The first major evolutionary split happened between our ancient ancestors and the ancestors of modern chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans; this split in hominoids creates the family of pongids, apes, and our family the hominids. Next diverged the ancestral chimps and hominidal forms, leaving us with the branch that would eventually lead to both Neandertals and modern homo sapiens. After this divergence, "four new species now appear between the chimpanzee and human: Ardepithecus ramidus, Australopithecus anamensis, Australopithecus afarensis, and Australopithecus africanus." (11)
The earliest of these forms, Ardepithecus ramidus, differs from their chimp-like counterparts only in their dentition, notably the smaller, shorter canine. Despite that seemingly minor difference, the evolutionary future of these branches hinged on that dental alteration 4.5 million years ago. The next hominid in the theorized line is Australopithecus anamens...

... middle of paper ...

... have generated potentially fertile offspring. It is unclear whether any of these potential offspring continued to interbreed within Cro-Magnon populations and thus passed on their genetic material, but no conclusive evidence points to either answer definitively.
Neandertals were a unique evolutionary foray that adapted well to the northern climates, but never to the altered climates after the end of the ice ages. Their intelligence is undisputable, though it did not reach the same levels as our own ancestors, and their displays of it are well documented. Although it is far from the initial European ancestral form that early scientists were hoping to exist, the Neandertal was undoubtedly an important stick on our hominidal branch on the wide tree of evolutionary life- and one that we can learn much about ourselves and our ancestors through the continued study of.
Open Document