The Neandertals were Late Pleistocene inhabitants of Europe, and their skeletal remains were among the first fossil humans that scientists recognized as representatives of an ancient human group. The name, Neandertal comes from the Neander valley in Germany, where a single partial skeleton was found in 1856. This name originally was spelled Neanderthal in written German of the late nineteenth century, and that spelling continues to be a correct alternative used in many scientific and popular publications. Lucky preservation and the great activity level of European archaeologists and pa- leontologists have left a substantial fossil record of the Neandertals, more so than in any other region of the world. The Neandertals persisted until after 30,000 years ago in Western Europe. Fossils with anatomical similarities to the European Neandertals have also been found in West and Central Asia, and are often called Neandertals themselves.
It can be difficult or impossible to divide Neandertals from other people based on small fossil fragments. Instead of one single feature, usually a constellation of different features contribute to the identification of Neandertal fossils. Because there are so many Neandertal fossils, anthropologists have identified many different features that help to set them apart:
At this station are some casts Neandertal skulls, in comparison with modern humans. Work at identifying the following features:
- occipital bun
- supraorbital torus
- barrel-shaped vault
- midfacial prognathism
- high nasal angle