Original Neanderthal man found 150 years ago

20th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

20 July 2006, DUSSELDORF, GERMANY - It was the early part of August 1856 when two workers at a limestone quarry found strange-looking bones in a cave they were digging in the Neander Valley east of Dusseldorf. Thinking the bones belonged to a bear, the quarrymen showed them to a local amateur naturalist, Johann Carl Fuhlrott, who identified them as human and very old. Fuhlrott believed the 16 bone fragments he examined represented the remnants of an ancient human race, different from contemporary humans. B

20 July 2006

DUSSELDORF, GERMANY - It was the early part of August 1856 when two workers at a limestone quarry found strange-looking bones in a cave they were digging in the Neander Valley east of Dusseldorf.

Thinking the bones belonged to a bear, the quarrymen showed them to a local amateur naturalist, Johann Carl Fuhlrott, who identified them as human and very old.

Fuhlrott believed the 16 bone fragments he examined represented the remnants of an ancient human race, different from contemporary humans.

But this view was not immediately accepted as it contradicted literal interpretations of the Bible and came before Charles Darwin's work about evolution was published.

It took some years before the Neanderthal man gained acceptance as a species of the homo genus that inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia.

The first proto-Neanderthal traits appeared in Europe as early as 350,000 years ago, by 130,000 years ago full blown Neanderthal characteristics had appeared and by 50,000 years ago Neanderthals disappeared from Europe, although they continued in Asia to 30,000 years ago.

More than 300 examples of homo neanderthalensis have been found in different parts of Europe and the Middle East since the original discovery.

But the bones found in the Neander Valley remains to this day the most popular and best researched prehistoric man in the world.

"The Neanderthals were much further developed than we originally believed," according to Frankfurt-based palaeo-biologist Friedeman Schrenk.

Research into the Neanderthal made a quantum leap forward in 1997 when archaeologists Juergen Thissen and Ralf W Schmitz made further discoveries at the original site, which helped lead to partially cracking its DNA code.

Genetic analysis of the historic skeleton and a newly discovered smaller Neanderthal's bones underscored the theory held by most geneticists today that Neanderthals are not the direct ancestors of modern-day man, as had been believed for a time in the 19th century.

"The Neanderthals belonged to a different gene pool and are scarcely likely to have interbred with our ancestors, who were their competitors in the race for genetic survival," said Schmitz.

Last month, facial-reconstruction experts in Germany unveiled a life-sized bust of the original Neanderthal man as part of the 150th celebrations marking his discovery.

Unlike past reconstructions of modern man's early cousin, which have looked forbidding and even gorilla-like, the newest model has a relaxed gaze as if meditating after a satisfying meal.

Michael Schmauder, a prehistorian at the State Museum of the Rhine in Bonn, said the model made by a German and Swiss team was "precise, individualistic and lifelike."

Measurements of the 1856 cranium fragment and further pieces of bone found in 1997 were entered into a computer, and details of a more complete Neanderthal skull from France were added.

Soft tissue was modelled on that of a modern Swiss human being.

The modellers included a facial scar at the site of a wound that is visible over the original Neanderthal man's eye socket. They chose a less hairy appearance than in other models, giving him a mid-length haircut and a wispy beard.

The bust is on display at Roots, a special exhibition in the Bonn museum that runs until November 19.

The area where the first Neanderthal bones were found was landscaped after the limestone quarry shut and is now the site of a museum of Neanderthal life.

The museum has also recreated the man's appearance in a full-body model holding a spear.

DPA

Subject: German news

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