Anatomists were perplexed by the bones. Among them was a chunk of a skull that seemed human but wasn't quite. A strong, bony brow ridge and broad, wide nostrils were features of the Neanderthal cranium. In addition, the Neanderthal physique was stockier and shorter than ours. They probably didn't reach our height of about 1.80 meters (6 feet) but instead resembled modern Africans or Asians in stature, with bone fragments indicating they might have been as tall as us but with much more mass on their frames.
Neanderthals first came to attention in 1857 when German scientist Carl von Japheth discovered a partial skeleton in Germany's Neander Valley. He named it "Neanderthal" after the nearby town where he worked. Over time, more fossils have been found, allowing scientists to build up a fairly complete picture of what these ancient people looked like.
Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia around 30,000 years ago. They had large brains—about 380 cc for a male vs. 730 cc for a modern man—and used tools made from rocks and animals bones. The cause of their extinction is still a matter of debate: some think they were out-competed by modern humans while others argue that they simply chose not to live in areas that we wanted to use for our own expansion. Either way, they died out about 40,000 years ago.
Neanderthals possessed a long, low head (as opposed to contemporary humans' more spherical skulls) with a distinctively noticeable brow ridge above their eyes. Their features were likewise unique. The middle section of the face protruded forward, dominated by a large, broad nose. The jaw was strong and muscular, indicating that they ate a diet of hard foods such as nuts and berries. They also had large teeth designed for chewing tough food.
In terms of body size, they were smaller than modern humans but larger than apes. Male Neanderthals usually stood about 1.80 m (6 ft 0 in) tall and weighed about 55 kg (120 lb), while females tended to be shorter at about 1.60 m (5 ft 3 in) and weigh about 45 kg (100 lb). They lived in Europe and Asia until about 10,000 years ago, when they became extinct.
Modern scientists believe that both our species and Neanderthals evolved from a single ancestral population that migrated out of Africa about 400,000 years ago. They developed into different physical types because they lived in different environmental conditions. Neanderthals became extinct because they did not adapt well to change. Modern humans, on the other hand, were able to survive in diverse environments because we were capable of learning from our mistakes and adapting accordingly.
Anatomically contemporary people are lighter in build than ancient humans (such as Neanderthals). Their skulls are likewise more rounded, with little brow ridges, a vertical forehead, a prominent chin, and tiny teeth, jaws, and faces. They have also been found to have had smaller brains and shorter legs.
Modern humans first appeared about 200,000 years ago in the Middle East. By 70,000 years ago they had spread across most of Europe and by 50,000 years ago they had reached South America. It is believed that after this point they began to migrate toward the east until they eventually covered all of Asia as well as North Africa.
People today are divided into three groups based on DNA: Europeans, Asians, and Africans. Each group has its own set of anatomical differences. For example, Europeans have longer limbs and smaller feet than Asians. Limbs are important for locomotion; thus having different lengths enables people to be successful at moving about from place to place which in turn allows them to find food and avoid being eaten by predators.
The earliest evidence of modern humans comes from Morocco where several fossils have been discovered dating back to approximately 40,000 years ago.
These individuals were very similar to people who lived in Europe and Asia at the time, but they showed evidence of having smaller teeth and bones than earlier humans.
The modern human has a more rounded head and loses the Neanderthal's pronounced brow ridge. Neanderthals possessed powerful physique with broad hips and shoulders. Adults were around 1.50-1.75m tall and weighed 64-82kg. Children were about 1.35m tall and weighed 52-65kg.
The brain of a young adult Neanderthal was slightly larger than that of a modern human of same height (1532cc vs 1480cc). Their life expectancy was 30-37 years old.
Neanderthals went extinct about 4000 years ago after coming into contact with modern humans. The two species coexisted for some time before modern humans evolved new traits that allowed them to replace Neanderthals.