The glass tube and the microscope slide contain a fluid DNA preparation: the genetic makeup of the Neanderthals. We haven’t found any bones here in Saxony so we have taken our sample from our Neanderthal neighbours. This DNA is about 60,000 years old and has been given to us by the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. As inconspicuous as it may appear, it contains a huge amount of information for us to draw on.
Certain sections of the DNA, the genes, carry genetic information and scientists have been able to decode six genes from this Neanderthal genetic material. They have given us information about the hair, skin colour, sweating mechanism and growth of the Neanderthal’s bones. Another gene is responsible for speech and this is the same as that in the modern day human being, but it is disputed as to whether Neanderthals communicated in the same way as we do. If you would like to know more about this, please go to the „How did Neanderthals speak?“ installation. We also have a special section dedicated to the Neanderthal’s energy system because their energy metabolism was governed by another gene from their genetic material that is known to us.
The sixth gene is for the human ability to relate to one another and it is only present in Neanderthals in a very primitive form. In comparison with Homo Sapiens the Neanderthals were inferior in terms of both cultural abilities and craftsmanship, but this cannot be the sole reason for their extinction.
During a very cold phase of the last Ice Age there may have been increasing competition between the two human forms in the search of food for example. Apart form that, the modern human could breed faster, and 30,000 years ago the Neanderthals were no longer able to maintain their population. You can find researchers’ differing opinions about this subject in the „Researcher Interviews“ section.
If you’d like to know whether Neanderthals mixed with Homo Sapiens, or how much of the Neanderthal is still present in us today, play the question and answer game here at this installation. It will also help you to answer any further important questions you might have about Neanderthals.