Ever since the first Neanderthal bones were discovered, they have posed fundamental questions for scientists.
- Were these beings almost identical to us, or
- were they crude and primitive creatures, an evolutionary dead-end?
In Neanderthal - The Rebirth, a top team of scientists - whose exhaustive analysis even extends to the Neanderthal vocal apparatus - investigates. Innovative CGI modelling and graphics showcase new knowledge about their physique, the way they moved, even some aspects of their behaviour, to bring the Neanderthal back to life.
No human ancestor has captured our imagination like the Neanderthals. For tens of thousands of years we shared the planet with them - until they mysteriously died out less than thirty thousand years ago. But ever since the first bones were discovered, they have posed a fundamental question for scientists. Were these the bones of a creature almost identical to us - so similar that if you put them in a suit they could pass as a banker or a businessman? Or were they crude, primitive creatures - an evolutionary dead end?
Scientists have spent decades debating this question, but up until now they've done so by looking at bones and by analysing genes. This BBC TV programme, Neanderthal - The Rebirth brings together a team of top scientists to put flesh on the bones, to bring a Neanderthal back to life.
Together, these anatomists, biometric specialists, modellers and paleoanthropolgists are able to work out precisely how strong they were; how fast they were; what their eyesight was like (and even what they sounded like) showing precisely how humans today compare with our closest extinct ancestor.
The team's first task is to create a complete skeleton from the many fragments found throughout Europe and the Middle East. Then, as they begin to build the skeleton's musculature and soft tissue, they subject it to exhaustive analysis, comparing it to humans and other animals to see what it can tell us about Neanderthals. For example, analysis of the inner ear reveals that, whilst humans are quick and agile, Neanderthals were relatively slow and cumbersome. But ridges on their hands tell the scientists that they had huge hand muscles; they had a grip of iron.
Analysis of the Neanderthal's vocal apparatus will allow scientists for the first time to produce a Neanderthal voice. At the end of the educational film, a full body reconstruction of a Neanderthal is presented. Not only that, but using innovative CGI techniques, this body is used as the basis for a reconstruction that will showcase everything that has been learnt about Neanderthals; their physique, the way they moved and even some aspects of their behaviour.
This BBC documentary looks at the science and evolutionary history of the neanderthal.