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on August 8, 2013
"Decoding Neanderthals" is a fascinating documentary about the latest research on Neanderthals. It seems the consensus on these problematic creatures changes every other decade or so, in an almost pendulum-like fashion. When I was a kid, Neanderthals were considered a subspecies of Homo sapiens. There was even a French animated comic which depicted Neanderthals as identical to "real" humans. Then the pendulum swung in the other direction, and suddenly the Neanderthals became a separate species of slightly dull evolutionary cousins who didn't quite make it through. They were absolutely not our ancestors, and their DNA wasn't like ours, either.

Now, the pendulum has swung in the other direction again! Are we to believe "Decoding Neanderthals", these paleo-brutes (who are said to have the mother of all image problems) were closely related to our own species, so closely that they could interbreed with us and produce fertile offspring. I admit I was stunned. I must have missed this piece of sensational science news somewhere in between Justin Bieber's and Britney Spears' latest exploits...

The documentary further claims that Neanderthals were more intelligent than previously imagined, and had a symbolic culture. They could produce glue through an artificial, "industrial" process (rather than just gather natural glue from, say, trees). Neanderthals also used red paint on their bodies, might have used feathers for decoration, and buried their dead. Genetic research shows that these supposedly primitive hominins had the same gene for language skills as modern humans. I wonder how long before the old speculations about a "cave bear cult" is dusted off and reused?

But, as mentioned, the most sensational new piece of evidence is that Neanderthals interbred with Homo sapiens. Researchers have found that Africans have almost no Neanderthal DNA, Asians have somewhat more and Europeans have the most. In Europe, there is a concentration of Neanderthal DNA in Tuscany (an area of Italy). It seems our species interbred with Neanderthals after leaving Africa and migrating to Asia. The number of Neanderthal genes in European DNA is about 3%. It should be noted that this doesn't disprove the African origins of Homo sapiens. Rather, it shows that Neanderthals must have *been* Homo sapiens, presumably an early and specially adapted subspecies. This is not sufficiently emphasized in the documentary.

That being said, it seems Homo sapiens neanderthalensis has been rehabilitated as part of the extended human family, and successfully solved its image problems. At least until the pendulum swings back again...
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on April 13, 2013
a really interesting watch. it lays to rest questions of Neanderthal genetic inheritance among Modern Humans. At times it gets a little too scientific when it starts to explain the genome stuff, but that's probably just me.. as i've never really studied that area of science. but a great dvd. just wish it were in blu-ray format.
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on September 14, 2013

"They were the brutes of Ice Age Europe. Although a branch of our human family tree, they were seen as a dead end, deep in our prehistoric past. They were called Neanderthals.

They etched out a marginal existence, hunted by brute force, with only simple stone tools. They were considered primitive with no language, art, or the higher-level thinking of advanced species like us.

They began to disappear 40,000 years ago, as modern humans, our species, came on the scene.

But this primitive picture is being replaced by a different image of Neanderthals. It's bringing them much closer to us, as genetic evidence revises our human family tree and reveals their mysterious presence right within our genes.

Now archaeologists are finding new evidence to resolve bitter debates. In tool-making, they're seeing signs of language. A new Neanderthal mind emerges. And if scientists are finally finding the real legacy of the Neanderthals buried deep in our history and our genes, what does it say about all of us?"

The above comes from the preview of this exceptional documentary about Neanderthals, our closest extinct ancestor.

This program looks at such topics as the technologies of Neanderthals, their intelligence, and their genetic makeup. (The genetic studies on Neanderthals took about four years to complete.)

The end of this program asks the question:

"Why are we [humans] still here and the Neanderthal not?"

The answer to this question may shock you.

Finally, throughout this documentary are brief comments made by university professors, geneticists, etc.

In conclusion, this is an exceptional program that may radically change your perception of Neanderthals. I leave you with this documentary's last words:

"We're finding out that we owe a debt to a mysterious, long-vanished branch of the human family in ways we are only just beginning to discover."

(2013; 55 min; wide screen; 6 chapters; PBS--NOVA)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>
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on September 15, 2013
I'd seen two episodes of the series on t.v. and was quite interested to find that there was a dvd of the entire series. However the dvd isn't quite what you might expect it to be as while it does detail how the view of the Neanderthal has changed over the past decade, it also leaves you wishing that the episodes had gone into more detail and that there were more episodes. The information touched on such as tool making, encounters with the 'humans' and how mankind does still share genes with the Neanderthals is interesting but is overall very shallow and leaves much unanswered as to the life of a Neanderthal, their overall history and their eventual absorption into the 'human' race. Interesting and hopefully there'll sometime be a companion dvd or additional episodes that explains what's only lightly touched on in this one.
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on December 1, 2014
This was fairly informative, albeit short 60 minute documentary that barely scratches the surface of Neanderthal and Neanderthal genetics. A lot of time is spent in the beginning dispensing with a lot of the 'myths' about Neanderthals, specifically that they were brutish thuggish semi-human creatures. There is some live action scenes with people in makeup to look like Neanderthals vs. Homo Sapiens. The very brief encounter between the homo sapiens man and the Neanderthal woman could've been longer and better visualized. There are a lot of filler scenes with costumed Neanderthals and homo sapiens posing looking cool.

There just wasn't enough 'meat' in this documentary to really rate this higher. Perhaps if it has been longer, and had more information. As it was this was a brief intro to Neanderthals that should be the beginning of a more in depth series.
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Neanderthals preceded humans by about 140,000 years. Then, over 60,000 years ago the first humans entered Europe, still in the Ice Age. So what happened to the Neanderthals? This DVD provides evidence that Neanderthals were more intelligent than previously thought, may have had language capability, and 'disappeared' by virtue of being assimilated into the much larger number of humans via interbreeding.
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on May 21, 2013
I seen this on TV and just had to have the video. It is spell binding from the first moment to the last minute of this DVD. If your into science or Neanderthals, this DVD is the very latest info. on the subject.
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on April 20, 2015
This really settles the argument between Evolution and Significant Design! Neanderthals and humans are 2 different species! However, they did intermarry (?) so there's a little Neanderthal in all of us!
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on September 11, 2015
There is so much more to this story, it felt incomplete.
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on June 15, 2015
Wow! One of the best presentations on Neanderthals yet (and there are many out there). Includes most up-to-date info on genetic research as well. Clearly presented with top scientists. Populations with ancestry from southern Europe will find this particularly compelling. I always thought I had a little Neanderthal in me (maybe).
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