Neandertal Advance: First Fully Jointed Skeleton Built

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
March 10, 2005

Scientists have for the first time constructed a fully articulated, or jointed, Neandertal skeleton using castings from real Neandertal bones.

The reconstruction, which has been part of several exhibitions, presents a striking visual image of what the Neandertal (often spelled Neanderthal) looked like, experts say.

"At last I felt that somehow I had actually met a Neandertal," said Ian Tattersall, the curator of the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City.

The skeleton was reconstructed by G.J. Sawyer, an anthropologist at the AMNH, and Blaine Maley, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Anthropologists have long debated the skeletal differences between Neandertals and modern humans. The reconstruction suggests some strong differences in the form of the Neandertal's rib cage and pelvis compared to those of modern humans.

The research is reported this week in the science journal The Anatomical Record.

Disappearance

Neandertals lived in Europe and some parts of Asia from 300,000 years ago. The last of them mysteriously disappeared in present-day Spain and Portugal 28,000 years ago. Modern humans, many scientists believe, arose in Africa less than 200,000 years ago and appeared in great numbers in Europe starting about 40,000 years ago.

The relationship between Neandertals and the early modern humans, commonly known as Cro-Magnon beings, is fuzzy. The two groups overlapped in Europe for 10,000 years.

The reconstruction could provide scientists with a more complete picture of the stature differences between modern humans and Neandertals.

"It gives the public and scientific community a more grounded basis for comparing this archaic group of Homo to modern humans," said Maley, one of the two authors. "The emotional responses to these differences are much more pronounced than when looking at an artist's conception or comparing individual bones."

The reconstruction was based on a skeleton called La Ferrassie 1, which was discovered in France in 1909. It is a well-preserved and fairly complete fossil skeleton, though missing a complete rib cage, vertebral column, and pelvis. For the reconstruction, the researchers had to obtain these parts from other individual skeletons.

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