Neanderthals vs Homosapiens: 5 Key Differences Explained

Written by Hannah Ward
Updated: June 5, 2022
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Neanderthals are an extinct species of ancient humans who lived 350,000 to 40,000 years ago, while homosapiens are modern humans.  For a long time, many people believed that we evolved from Neanderthals, but they’re actually one of our most recent relatives and lived alongside early humans.  For a long time, Neanderthals were depicted as brutish cavemen who walked with a hunch and wielded clubs.  The term has even been used as an insult for many of the same reasons.  However, the truth is there is much more to neanderthals than initially thought.  So, just what are the differences between the two?  Join us as we discover exactly how different neanderthals and homosapiens really are!

Comparing Homosapien vs Neanderthal

Neanderthals (homo neanderthalensis) are known for their short, stocky bodies and prominent brow ridges.  They were capable tool makers and extremely skilled hunters.  On the other hand, homosapien means “wise man” which is particularly apt given how much we have adapted and achieved.  Although there is a common misconception that neanderthals are our ancestors, they are actually just a really close relative.  But just how close are they?

Check out the chart below to learn a few of the main differences between homosapiens and neanderthals.

HomosapienNeanderthal
StatusAliveExtinct – lived 350,000 to 40,000 years ago
LocationWorldwide – in a variety of climates and conditions, highly adaptableEurasia – often in cold and arid conditions
HeightVaries depending on factors such as country and living conditions.
Expected average is 5ft 9in for men and 5ft 4in for women
Average 5 fet to 5ft 6in
LimbsLong limbsShort limbs, particularly lower legs and lower arms
ChestNormal shapedBarrel shaped
BonesThinner and not as robust as those of early humans, narrower pelvisThick, strong bones and wide pelvis
HumerusSymmetricalAsymmetrical
MetacarpalsThinnerThicker
SkullMore rounded skull, no prominent brow ridgeElongated skull, stretched from front to back. Prominent brow ridge above the eyes, large wide nose
TeethSmaller teeth than those of early humans. Two equal sized cusps in lower premolarsLarger front teeth, larger roots, and enlarged pulp cavities in molars. Teeth developed quicker
LifespanVaries depending on country, living conditions etc
World average is 70 for men and 75 for females
Around 80% died before the age of 40

The 5 Key Differences Between Neanderthals and Homosapiens

Neanderthal vs Homosapien: Skull

Neanderthals had a different shaped skull and prominent brow ridges

Hermann Schaaffhausen – Public Domain

Easily one of the most obvious differences between neanderthals and homosapiens is the differences in their skull and facial features.  Homosapiens have a typically round-shaped skull while the neanderthals’ skulls are much more elongated from front to back.  This longer skull was to allow for the larger brain that neanderthals had.  Additionally, neanderthals had a prominent brow ridge above the eyes.  They also had a much larger nose.  The nasal passageways were noticeably larger than those of homosapiens.  This is thought to have been to provide an increased oxygen intake while doing strenuous activity in particularly cold environments.  Neanderthals also had a less noticeable chin than homosapiens, but a more sloped forehead.

Neanderthal vs Homosapien: Height

Today, the height of homosapiens varies depending on factors such as country, living conditions, gender, race, etc. However, on average humans today are still taller than neanderthals.  The expected worldwide average is 5ft 9in for men and 5ft 4in for women.  Yet, neanderthals were somewhat smaller and on average most were between 5 feet and 5ft 6ins.  This height difference can in part be attributed to the shorter limbs of neanderthals.  Neanderthals had shorter lower legs as well as shorter lower arms than homosapiens, who have much longer limbs.

Neanderthal vs Homosapien: Teeth

One of the greatest insights into neanderthal life comes from their teeth.  Neanderthal teeth began to develop much earlier than homosapien teeth— in fact, they actually began to develop before birth.  Scientists believe that this suggests that neanderthals actually had a faster growth rate than homosapiens.  The other differences between their teeth include larger front teeth compared to those of homosapiens, larger roots, a large gap behind the third molar, and enlarged pulp cavities in the molars.

Neanderthal vs Homosapien: Bones

Neanderthals and homosapiens also have different bones.  Neanderthals had much stronger and thicker bones than homosapiens.  These thicker bones include thicker metacarpals and generally a more robust disposition which was suited to their harsh lifestyle.  They also had an asymmetrical humerus bone as opposed to homosapiens who have a symmetrical humerus.  Neanderthals also had longer and thicker neck vertebrates which would have provided greater stability for their different shaped skulls.

Neanderthal vs Homosapien: Body Shape

One of the most distinctive differences between homosapiens and neanderthals is the body shape.  Homosapiens—humans today have a normal-shaped chest and a narrow pelvis.  Neanderthals had a barrel-shaped chest and a much wider pelvis.  Their barrel-shaped chest comprising of longer and straighter ribs possibly allowed for greater lung capacity.

Neanderthals had a short, stocky build with short limbs

IR Stone/Shutterstock.com

FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are neanderthals and humans the same species?

Neanderthals and humans both belong to the same genus Homo but are not the same species.  Neanderthals (homo neanderthalensis) and humans (homo sapiens) are two separate species.  Every person alive today is homo sapien. However, the neanderthal DNA has been found to exist in some people, meaning that neanderthals and some early humans actually mated.

Did neanderthals talk?

There has been much speculation over the years as to whether neanderthals could speak or not. Despite this, recent research has now suggested that they at least had the capacity to speak a language of some sort.  Speech is linked to the vocal tract structure and the amount of room at the base of the skull for the pharynx.  Neanderthal skull bases have been found to be more arched than chimpanzees, but less arched than humans, which means they were capable of producing some speech, but not necessarily the same range of sounds that humans produce.  Despite this, the fact that neanderthals were skilled toolmakers and proficient hunters shows that they must have been able to communicate effectively.

Were neanderthals intelligent?

Research suggests that neanderthals were not as dim-witted as they were believed to have been.  Along with the evidence that shows they must have been able to speak and communicate effectively, it has been found that neanderthals buried their dead.  There is significant evidence that they marked the graves and made symbolic objects. Additionally, they were able to build and control fires, made tools, and lived in shelters.  There is even evidence that they looked after family members who were sick or injured.

Were neanderthals stronger than homosapiens?

Although it is impossible to know for certain or to what extent, it is generally agreed that neanderthals were stronger than homosapiens.  The shorter, stockier, and more muscular build of neanderthals naturally means that they were well suited for strength.  In fact, given their tough lifestyle, it’s quite easy to assume that they were pretty strong.  Neanderthals were expert hunters and fought with large animals such as mammoths in order to catch and kill them.  Not only that, but even after their kill, they would have carried large quantities of meat back to their families.

How old is the oldest neanderthal - prehistoric mammoth encounter
Neanderthals were incredibly strong as they hunted large mammals such as mammoths

What did neanderthals eat?

Neanderthals were predominantly carnivorous and hunted and ate large mammals such as mammoths, elephants, deer, woolly rhinos, and wild boars.  However, preserved food found in neanderthal teeth shows that they also ate some plants and fungi.

Why did neanderthals become extinct?

Neanderthals became extinct around 40,000 years ago, although their DNA lives on in some humans.  The exact reasons for their extinction are unclear. However, some of these reasons are thought to include increased competition from early homosapiens, as well as interbreeding with them. Moreover, the inability to cope with extreme conditions such as climate change and natural disasters is another reason they went into extintion.  The general consensus is that it is unlikely to have been one specific reason that caused their extinction, but rather a combination of many factors.

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I'm an avid animal lover, and when not writing I can be found on my farm surrounded by dogs, horses, and sheep.