The Neanderthal skull vs human skull argument comes up often when we take a look back at our ancient history.
Humans have undergone many evolutionary changes to get to their modern states, and at some point, we were at the same level as Neanderthals.
They had a significant effect on our modern-day morphology and DNA, so it is crucial to understand what differences we have from our ancestors.
The skull determines aspects of the brain and facial features of a person, so let us take a closer look at our ancestors to get some answers.
Differences Between Neanderthal and Human Skull
We might be closely related to Neanderthals, but numerous significant differences showcase centuries of evolution.
One of the most essential differences between modern-day humans and Neanderthals is the shape of the skull and how various facial features were.
The skull affects many aspects of human and animal behavior and thinking capacity, so minor changes can have huge impacts. Let us take a closer look and see what differences we can highlight between them;
Imagine the human skull to be a soccer ball and the Neanderthal skull to be a football. Since the 1860s, archaeologists have been fascinated by the unusual shape of a Neanderthal skull: low, extending from front to back like a ball.
This was the initial fossilized hominid species to be recorded in 1864. After uncovering the remains in the Feldhofer Cave in Germany’s Neander Valley, geologist William King coined the scientific designation Homo neanderthalensis.
Our rounded (spherical) heads, like a soccer ball, are a defining feature of modern people. Globularity indicates evolutionary changes in the proportions of human brain components.
However, because brain material does not fossilize, it can be challenging to establish an underlying biological mechanism.
To determine fossil brain capacity, anthropologists fill skulls with either beads or seeds and transfer the contents into a specially marked cylinder. They would also calculate the volume of water displaced by immersing skull molds.
Even though CT scanning techniques today produce more reliable measurements, a lot of information we have today in our textbooks and other references was acquired from the traditional approaches.
As per these measurements, Neanderthals fossils and contemporary humans from the same period had nearly identical brain sizes.
Endocranial volumes in twenty-three Neanderthals dated from 40,000 to 130,000 years ago ranged from 71.5 to 106 cubic inches.
Sixty ancient Homo sapiens averaged 66.5 cubic inches in size. The standard adult brain volume for humans today is 82 cubic inches, according to measurements taken 122 populations across the globe in the 1980s.
Neanderthals had distinct qualities as well. A big, broad nose extending forward dominated the middle of the face. Some researchers suggest this characteristic evolved due to living in more frigid, drier areas.
The nostril’s massive interior capacity would have moisturized and heated the air they breathed. Their frontal teeth were significant, but unlike modern humans, they lacked an imposing chin.
Neanderthals exhibited larger eye sockets, indicating enhanced visual brain regions and potentially improved vision, possibly as an adaptation to higher elevations with reduced light.
What did Homo sapiens use their extra brainpower for? According to some researchers, humans today have a larger cerebellum, which allows us to process information more efficiently.
Others have claimed that scent was essential to humanity: a study from 2011 in Nature Communications examined the internal base of skulls and discovered that modern human brains contain rather big olfactory regions.
Having a superior sense of smell, according to the authors, might have helped people automatically identify safe meals or detect social signals.
Neanderthals’ Critical Physical Features
Evolution changes an organism to make them best suited for the environment they live in, and it takes thousands of years to live in the same environment.
All animals evolve to have a specific set of physical features that make it convenient for them to feed and reproduce.
Teeth and Jaws
Their jaws were wider and sturdier than current humans’, having a gap behind their 3rd molars at the back end of the jaw. Neanderthal jaws did not have the protruding bony chin seen in Homo sapiens.
Their teeth were more prominent than present humans’ because they ate a more varied and challenging diet.
Body size and shape
The Neanderthal humans were usually shorter than contemporary humans, with stronger skeletons and muscular bodies.
Males were approximately 168 centimeters tall, while the females were significantly less prominent at 156 cm.
Brain size mostly corresponds to the amount of work the brain needs to do to move the body and process ideas. The brain measured 1500 cubic cm, greater than the typical human brain.
This is hardly surprising, given that Neanderthals grew larger and bulkier than modern humans. People living in frigid regions have larger brains compared to those inhabiting warm regions.
Limbs and pelvic bone
The skeletons of their limbs were substantial and had large joints, implying that both limbs were highly muscled.
The shin and forearms seemed usually smaller than they are today. These ratios are characteristic of people living in frigid terrains.
The pelvis was broader from side to side compared to normal humans, which could have influenced their body posture.
DNA and Molecular studies
Neanderthals are the only human predecessors whose DNA and other macromolecules have been studied.
Although other investigations have been conducted since the first release in 1997, the publishing of the initial version of the Neanderthal genome in 2009 is the most significant.
Other significant findings from several pieces of research include the unearthing of DNA strands for red hair and a pale complexion (2007), the FOXP2 gene associated with linguistic capacity identical to current humans, and type-O blood in two Spaniards (2008).
The Relationship Between Neanderthals and Modern-Day Human DNA
Neanderthals and homo sapiens existed in similar evolutionary windows, and inevitably, Neanderthals affected the DNA of some homo sapiens’ offspring. Even some humans today have Neanderthal DNA, but how did I end up this way?
The Neanderthals are believed to have contributed up to between one and four percent of the genes of non-African people today, based on where your forefathers came from.
Humans today, who existed approximately 40,000 years in the past, were discovered to have 6-9% Neanderthal DNA.
Since Neanderthals were hypothesized to have evolved independently of Africa, it was expected there couldn’t be Neanderthal DNA in African humans today.
However, a study in 2020 revealed that there is Neanderthal genetic material in all African Homo Sapiens.
This is an excellent indicator of how the migration of humans from Africa operated, and it changed everything in the archeology community.
Homo sapiens did not leave Africa in several massive movements, but rather through the exchange of genes between each other over time, which brought the DNA of Neanderthals into Africa.
The evidence of crossbreeding sheds insight into the modern human dispersal out of Africa. These new data have disapproved of most prior suggestions that contemporary humans had anatomically displaced Neanderthals without interbreeding.
Regardless of occasional mating between current humans and hominins, most of our genes still come from Africa.
For a long time, current human genetics were the only source of proof of modern-Neanderthal mating.
Scholars presented a fresh set of Paleolithic genetic data from Altai Cave in Siberia and others from Croatia and Spain in 2016 that provide proof of crossing dating back 100,000 years.
Their results are the first to showcase human genes transfer into Neanderthal DNA rather than the inverse, which all prior research supported.
These results hint that the interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals was more common than researchers previously thought.
It also proves that an initial human group left Africa preceding the group that endured and spawned all existing non-African humans today.
Because mtDNA can only be inherited from mother to infant, if Neanderthal men were the sole source of the human genome, their influence would be absent from the mtDNA.
Mating between Neanderthals and human females could have led to fertile children, whereas crossbreeding between Neanderthal and current human males led to infertile offspring.
This would imply that Neanderthal mtDNA could not be transmitted down through the generations.
Modern humans probably have one or more mtDNA ancestry that Neanderthals added to our DNA. We just don’t know it because science hasn’t sequenced it in either current people or Neanderthals.
Any of these suggestions could clear the air about why current humans don’t have high amounts of Neanderthal mtDNA.
You now have more information on the Neanderthal skull vs human skull discussion, along with a better understanding of your history.
Neanderthals were more primitive, but they had a lot of influence over how we turned out as the human race.
We evolved much further from where Neanderthals were, but we are still closely related to them. Some people even have Neanderthal DNA, and it affects the size and shapes of their heads and other qualities. It’s a beautiful story of how time changes so much yet so little.