Collecting Clues

Did modern humans mix and mingle with Neanderthals?

Now extinct, Neanderthals were our closest relative—so close, in fact, that some have argued that they should actually be considered members of our own species, Homo sapiens, known as modern humans.

Neanderthals lived in Eurasia from 200,000 to about 30,000 years ago, just as modern humans were fanning out from Africa to eventually cover the globe. Did Neanderthals and early modern humans interact? If so, how and how much? Similarities in body ornamentation and burial practices suggest that the two groups did interact, at least enough to copy one another. Burials and ornamentation start to appear in both Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens sites at roughly the same time.

How do scientists know when remains have been buried deliberately rather than by natural processes? Earth mounds and burial pits are one sign, as is the presence of grave goods such as jewelry, weapons, and other objects fashioned from stone or animal bone.