Soon after its discovery in 1856, the first Neanderthal skull was examined by anatomist Rudolph Virchow. He determined that it did not belong to a separate species of primitive human, but rather to a modern human afflicted with rickets (Vitamin D deficiency) and osteoporosis. Later study confirmed this analysis in 1958. In 1978, Erik Trinkaus (the world’s foremost expert on Neanderthals) concluded, “Detailed comparisons of Neanderthal skeletal remains with those of modern humans have shown that there is nothing in Neanderthal anatomy that conclusively indicates locomotor, manipulative, intellectual, or linguistic abilities inferior to those of modern humans.” Why, then, does the cartoonish image of the hairy, stooped caveman persist? Perhaps because this image is critical to human evolutionary theory and they will ignore evidence to retain their unofficial mascot.
Trinkaus, Erik (1978), “Hard Times Among the Neanderthals,” Natural History, 87 : 58-63, December.