The false dichotomy: a refutation of the Neandertal indistinguishability claim

J Anthropol Sci. 2016 Jun 20:94:201-21. doi: 10.4436/JASS.94022. Epub 2015 Dec 21.


In the debate about the demise of the Neandertal, several scholars have claimed that humanity's nearest relatives were indistinguishable archaeologically, and thus behaviorally and cognitively, from contemporaneous Homo sapiens. They suggest that to hold otherwise is to characterize Neandertals as inferior to H. sapiens, a false dichotomy that excludes the possibility that the two human types simply differed in ways visible to natural selection, including their cognition. Support of the Neandertal indistinguishability claim requires ignoring the cranial differences between the two human types, which have implications for cognition and behavior. Further, support of the claim requires minimizing asymmetries in the quantity and degree of behavioral differences as attested by the archaeological record. The present paper reviews the evidence for cognitive and archaeological differences between the two human types in support of the excluded middle position.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archaeology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Fossils*
  • Hominidae
  • Humans
  • Neanderthals / anatomy & histology*
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Skull / anatomy & histology