Neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) lived in Ice-Age Europe between 350,000 and 30,000 years ago. Neanderthals are considered a sub-species of humans and now that we know that modern humans share about 4% of our DNA with Neanderthals the the sub-species or ‘breed’ argument is very strong.
The Neanderthals lived in small tribes of clan groups of 20 or so individuals. Most likely these groups were extended family groups and generally isolated from other clans. The Neanderthals made a living by hunting and gathering. Based on findings of bones there appears to have been a division of labor among the members of the groups, with the adult males hunting large game animals such as bison, elk and even mammoths. Meanwhile the juveniles and females would gather edible plants or scavenge from already dead animals.
Based on the injury pattern found in Neanderthal remains, the hunting males would have come in close contact with large animals. It seems they lacked projectile weapons and would have to get close to the animal to thrust spears into it, or perhaps even wrestled the prey to the ground before killing it. Meat in some form made up about 80 percent of the Neanderthal diet.
The Neanderthals had fire. They had a fairly advanced ‘toolkit’ of stone, bone or maybe even wooden tools, including sharp spear points, hand axes and it seems they also had a glue made from tree pitch.
It seems most likely that Neanderthals had some kind of speech. Some scientists have found the hyoid bone in excavated remains. The hyoid is the bone that lets modern humans speak. Plus since they hunted in groups, it is logical they had to have some way of communicating over a distance and coordinating their attacks on the prey.
Neanderthals cared for their sick, injured and old. Injured individuals survived and show little sign infections and many debilitating injuries healed, indicating that someone had to have cared for the hurt member of the tribe. Some skeletal remains are of individuals over 50 years old and crippled with arthritis, indicating that older Neanderthals and those that could no longer ‘work’ were also cared for.
Neanderthals buried their dead, often times with a collection of objects, called grave goods. These grave goods could show some belief in an afterlife. Neanderthals also might have used body paint and make-up as well.
As we can see, Neanderthals are far from the brutish near-animals of popular culture. They had a relatively advanced physical culture of stone tools and perhaps decorative arts. They cared for each other even after death and perhaps even had a spiritual life and belief system.