Physical Differences Between Neandertals and Humans

  • metacarpalsThicker bones

  • Barrel chests

  • Shorter limbs

  • Asymmetrical humerus

  • Thicker metacarpals (right)

Next Last Origin of Mankind and the Races Home
First | Previous | Next | Last |        | Index | Home

Slide 53 of 109

One of the characteristic of the Neandertals is their stocky appearance. They appear this way because of their thicker bones, barrel chests, and shorter arms and legs.1 Scientists recently discovered a probable reason for their asymmetrical humerus (upper arm bone). Neandertals possessed spears, but they probably did not throw them.2 The atlatl, or spear thrower, first appears in the fossil record at 19,000 years ago. Stone points that look like they were designed to be used with thrown spears date back to about 35,000 years ago. Thrusting a spear would be expected to produce the asymmetry observed in Neandertal upper arm bone.

The thicker metacarpals (bones in the palm of the hand) have significant implications in the ability of Neandertals to perform fine motor functions. 3D digital maps of the surfaces of the metacarpals reflect the kind of grip these creatures had.3, 4 These maps suggest that the smaller, slimmer hands of early modern humans were better suited to oblique grips - used when holding a complex tool with a handle, such as a hammer. Neanderthals, by comparison, were limited to grips as one has when holding a stone or baseball. Such a grip would have been powerful (you wouldn't want to shake hands with a Neanderthal), but not very dexterous. The anatomy of the Neanderthals would have prevented them from engaging in fine motor skills, such as carving and painting.


The bone that connects the lower arm bones (radius and ulna) with the shoulder bone (scapula).
The bones that connect the wrist bones (carpals) with the finger bones (phalanges).


  1. Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie, African Exodus. The Origins of Modern Humanity (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1996), pp. 85-114.

  2. Kurt Kleiner. 2002. Neanderthals used both hands to kill. New Scientist, November 23, 2002.

  3. Clarke, T. 2001. Relics: Early modern humans won hand over fist. Nature.

  4. Niewoehner, W. A. 2001. Behavioral inferences from the Skhul/Qafzeh early modern human hand remains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Last Modified June 21, 2006


Rich's Blog