The Neanderthals were claimed by the late Colin Wilson to have possessed highly sophisticated mathematical and astronomical knowledge and were precursors of the Atlantis civilisation. This extremely speculative assertion is made in Wilson’s Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals , a book that wanders all over the place with references to an extensive range of ancient mysteries from the Maya to Mary Magdalene without offering anything tangible to substantiate his central thesis.
Stelios Pavlou has noted that in 2001, Peter Jakubowski published ‘Atlantis of the Neanderthals‘, in which he argues that Atlantis was a Neanderthal civilization that was destroyed in 4804 BC’.”(ah) In 2014, Jakubowski revised and expanded the paper into an ebook  with the subtitle Colin Wilson Corrected. Pavlou also noted that “Jakubowski formerly supported the notion of Atlantis in Sicily and Malta. It is unclear if this is still the case as all mentions of Sicily and Malta were removed in the book’s recent revision.”
The idea of a Neanderthal connection with Atlantis is totally at variance with Plato’s description of a literate Bronze Age civilisation. While many atlantologists have chosen to reinterpret, modify or ignore aspects of Plato’s narrative, they have usually made some effort to justify their stance. Wilson, however, simply disregards the consistent Bronze Age references by Plato without any attempt at an explanation for this omission. Although it is generally accepted that the Neanderthals had died out by 20,000 BC and Wilson seems to believe that the cataclysmic flooding of Atlantis took place around 9500 BC, it leaves an insurmountable gap of over 10,000 years unexplained by him.
Neanderthals are accepted to have been indigenous to Europe, although the are sites in Israel attributed to them. As far as I’m aware, the most southerly evidence in Europe of Neanderthal activity has been in Malta(l), which is outlined in Dr. Anton Mifsud’s beautifully illustrated book, Dossier Malta – Neanderthal +, which can now be read online.
In a 2008 article, NatGeo reported on a study of skulls that suggested that the Human-Neanderthal divergence took place around 300,000 to 400,000 years ago.
A January 2010 report(a) dated the demise of the last Neanderthal at around 35,000 BC, which conflicts with the last paragraph. An even more eyebrow-raising claim was made two years later in February 2012, when New Scientist magazine published an article(b) that suggested that the Neanderthals had a maritime history in the Aegean 130,000 years ago! However, to make such a claim does not seem to take adequate account of the fact that at the time sea levels were much lower and as a consequence, some islands were considerably larger and in many cases, individual islands that we know today were joined to each other or generally required shorter sea journeys between them.
Nevertheless, ongoing excavations at a site on the coast of Jersey, one of the British Channel Islands off the coast of France are indicating that “Jersey may have been one of the last outposts of the Neanderthals in north-west Europe.”(u)
Now the suggestion has been made that the Neanderthals were possibly the first cave artists. This claim was put forward in the journal Nature (15/6/12). The El Castillo cave in northern Spain has some of this art dated to at least 40,800 years ago.
A 2021 study has suggested that a reversal of the magnetic poles around 42,000 years may have been a cause of the demise of the Neanderthals!(ac)
It was also proposed by Peter Fotis Kapnistos, who worked with Spyridon Marinatos, that Neanderthal Man may also have mastered sea travel and possibly played a part in the development of the Atlantis story(c). The idea of Neanderthal sailors has gained further support in a paper(s) by Professor George Ferentinos of the University of Patras.
Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado’s Museum of Natural History has recently (April 2004) expressed the view that the intellectual abilities of the Neanderthals have been seriously underestimated(d). Similar views are expressed in an article(e) which traces the early characterisation of Neanderthals as ‘primitive’ and contrasts that with the current revised opinions that attribute much greater intellectual capabilities to them.
In 2018, an article by Joanna Gillen on the Ancient Origins website offers more evidence that the Neanderthals had a more sophisticated lifestyle than previously thought(n). This is based on the finds from the cave at Abric Romani in Spain’s Catalonia. For obvious reasons, the technological capabilities of Neanderthals are only hinted at from the scanty evidence available so far. One such clue was the discovery(r) that they seemed to have used birch tar to haft projectile points.
A December 2022 article offers evidence for possible technology transfer from Neanderthals to modern humans(aj).
Neanderthal cave discoveries continue to surprise. In 2016, Nature published(t) details of investigations carried out in the Bruniquel Cave in southwest France. The occupation was dated to around 175,000 years ago. Furthermore, apart from evidence of the use of fire, broken stalagmites are carefully arranged in circles.
An extensive two-part article describing the Neanderthals as ‘human’ is available online(g). This view is currently championed by Portuguese archaeologist João Zilhão, whose views are featured in an interesting article(m) in the May 2019 edition of the Smithsonian Magazine.
There appears to be an acceptance that many of us have some Neanderthal DNA within us. While this is usually in the form of small snippets, an article in New Scientist magazine has reported that longer strings have been identified in Melanesian populations(o) in the Pacific!
In 2015 the results of the mapping of the entire genome of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal were published, which concluded that “There is now conclusive evidence that Neanderthals bred with Homo sapiens.”(f)
Further support has come in an article by Ashley Cowie with the eye-catching title of “Neanderthal Interbreeding with Humans Rampant on Jersey?” He relates that “Now, re-analysis of thirteen ‘48,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth’ originally discovered in Jersey between 1910 and 1911 has revealed that while they have always been assumed to have come from a single Neanderthal, they actually came from at least two individuals. Furthermore, the thirteen Neanderthal teeth from both individuals ‘share traits that are distinctive of modern humans.’ In short, this means Neanderthals and Homo sapiens had a “shared ancestry.”(ab)
Also in 2015, genetic studies pushed back the origins of Neanderthals to a startling 765,000 years ago(i), twice as old as previously thought.
A 2020 report(v) claims that “African populations have been revealed to share Neanderthal ancestry for the first time, in findings that add a new twist to the tale of ancient humans and our closest known relatives.” and that “The latest findings suggest human and Neanderthal lineages are more closely intertwined than once thought and point to far earlier interbreeding events, about 200,000 years ago.”
Geneticist David Reich had been sceptical of the idea that humans and Neanderthals had interbred until he engaged in a study of the DNA extracted from 40,000-year-old Neanderthal bones found in a Croatian cave. The result was that he was forced to conclude “that humans and Neanderthals did interbreed in their time together in Europe. Possibly even more than once.”(p)
>“Until now (October 2023), Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) were believed to have first interbred earlier than 75,000 years ago, according to a 2016 genetic analysis in the journal Nature. However, a new analysis, published Oct. 13, in the journal Current Biology, has revealed that one group of Homo sapiens from Africa interbred with Neanderthals in Eurasia around 250,000 years ago.”(ak)<
By way of contrast, another 2020 report highlighted the conflict between Neanderthals and humans, suggesting that “The best evidence that Neanderthals not only fought but excelled at war, is that they met us and weren’t immediately overrun. Instead, for around 100,000 years, Neanderthals resisted modern human expansion.” (z)
In April 2016, the results of a study(j) of their ‘Y’ chromosome suggested that Neanderthals had diverged “almost 590,000 years ago from humans.”
Earlier studies based on skull size and shape suggested that the split took place between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago(af). This research is ongoing as one commentator(ag) in 2013 expressed it – “Researchers have suggested a range of dates for when the last common ancestor of our lineage and Neanderthals could have lived.
The dates range from more than 800,000 years ago to less than 300,000, with many estimates in the neighborhood of 400,000 years ago. According to some studies, this time frame would seem to match that of the extinct species Homo heidelbergensis, which has been found in Africa, Europe, and possibly Asia.
But this may not be so. A new study theorizes that the last common ancestor of H. sapiens and Neanderthals lived longer ago than previously expected, with fossil evidence yet to be uncovered.”
A study(x), published on 3 June 2020 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B concluded that “Ancient humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans were genetically closer than polar bears and brown bears, and so, like the bears, were able to easily produce healthy, fertile hybrids according to a study, led by the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology.”
The apparent relatively rapid extinction of the Neanderthals has, understandably, led to a great amount of speculation. One suggestion is that the massive eruption of Campi Flegrei, a supervolcano west of Naples, 39,000 years ago led to consequent cooling that may even have helped bring about the end of the Neanderthals(aa).
One of the most recent(h) suggests that the lack of control of fire by the Neanderthals, in contrast with their human neighbours, was probably a factor that led to their demise! However, the use of fire by Neanderthals in Tuscany now appears settled with the discovery of tools shaped with fire(q).
2020 saw evidence emerge which suggested that even as far back as 41,000 – 52,000 years ago the Neanderthals had mastered the making of cords(w).
Even more important is the long-running debate on whether Neanderthals had the physical equipment that enabled them to speak. For a long time, it was thought that they were missing a pharynx and a larynx and so lacked speech. A 2021 paper brings the discussion up to date with evidence that Neanderthal speech was a possibility although not of the same quality as modern humans(ai).
It has now been reliably demonstrated that Neanderthals also played music using a flutelike instrument made of bear bone around 50,000 years ago(y).
Although we see above, various claims about the various technologies employed by Neanderthals, there is still debate regarding a fundamental capability, namely whether they had the ability to communicate with speech. The evidence seems to favour that they had.
More relevant to life today is a report(k) that the average 3% that modern Europeans share with Neanderthals has left us with a greater risk of nicotine addiction and depression.
A number of interesting articles relating to Neanderthals are also available on the q-mag website(ae).