Blog Smut Clyde

The anti-social mini-brains of Neanderthals

Neanderthals colonised Europe and Middle East long before modern humans and went extinct less than 30,000 years ago, when our species has spread there. Their story inspired the fantasies of generation of scientists, some of whom still cannot accept the idea that Neanderthals were just another kind of humans very similar or maybe simply just like us. Even new age phrenology is paraded as scientific explanation to why Neanderthal died out.

Neanderthals colonised Europe and Middle East long before modern humans and went extinct less than 30,000 years ago, when our species has spread there. Their story inspired the fantasies of generation of scientists, some of whom still cannot accept the idea that Neanderthals were just another kind of humans very similar or maybe simply just like us. Again and again the Neanderthals are portrayed as grunting hairy cave beasts utterly incapable of anything which makes us human: speech, art, tool-making and any meaningful social interaction except of copulation and mutual delousing. Gracelessly lumbering about, too slow to even hunt some food, not even grunting, but squeaking. The recent knowledge that modern humans and Neanderthal had actual children with each other, evidenced by genetic traces all modern humans of non-African origin carry, has for those academics a whiff of a bestiality fantasy. 

The following post by my regular contributor Smut Clyde presents you some fresh new age phrenology papers which try to explain why Neanderthal died out. Their brains were inferior, you see. Defective. This is why they are no longer amongst us: too stupid and anti-social. The history of Homo sapiens however suggests that we tend to see any out-group humans this way and then try our best in exterminating them and take their resources. Had certain more recent human endeavours succeeded, there would probably be peer -reviewed academic studies on why Australian and American first people, or Tutsi, or Armenians, or Jews were biologically bound to become extinct. Was it their poorly developed brains which made them sub-competitive against Europeans and other evolutionary more advanced races?

Some academics love presenting Neanderthals as subhuman beasts. On the left, a modern human lady, properly and elaborately dressed and combed, with shoes and jewellery, on the right Neanderthal female of same time, coexisting 25,000 years ago. Exhibition at Musée des Confluences (Lyon, France)

Of course Neanderthals were just like us humans at that time, even if they looked slightly different, what with the big noses and prominent brows. They even made art, a capacity we long denied to them. We should really consider the possibility that we, the invading sapiens, wiped out the indigenous Neanderthals, who could only survive by assimilating into the sapiens community, which eventually let them disappear. Just like many modern Spaniards have genetic traces of converted Jews escaping a Middle-Age Holocaust. By coincidence, last Neanderthals survived the sapiens onslaught until only 24,000 years ago in a corner of Iberian peninsula, in caves of Gibraltar.

As Smut Clyde tells below, so far it was skull phrenology and other shaky anatomic extrapolations from which scientists kept proving how mentally and physically inferior Neanderthals were, to get the fate these dodos of the hominid world deserved. As the scholar Richard Coss, a psychologist and artist, postulated in February 2018:

“Neanderthals could mentally visualise previously seen animals from working memory but they were unable to translate those mental images effectively into the co-ordinated hand-movement patterns required for drawing”

With the advance of genetic engineering and stem cell research, the Neanderthal idiocy entered the wet lab. The goal is to prove with high-tech buzzwords like stem cells, CRISPR and mini-brain why Neanderthals were so primitive (because accepting that Neanderthals were not, would thwart an emerging field of sexy research).

Svante Pääbo is director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a star of anthropology research, whose previously led the effort to extract ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones and sequence the genome. Because a Max Planck director and certainly someone of Pääbo’s calibre will never get to hear any proper criticism to his face, he announced in May 2018 in The Guardian to use the gene editing CRISPR/CAS technology to modify reprogrammed human cells and use them to simulate Neanderthal brains in a dish. The technology is called “mini-brains”, not because those are actual little brains in a cell culture dish, but because “neurosphere” or “3D neural stem cell culture” sounds old-fashioned and unsellable. Some quotes from Pääbo’s lab:

“You start the organoid growing and leave it for nine months and see what happens,” said Gray Camp, a group leader at the institute who is overseeing the organoid experiments. “You don’t get a well-formed human brain at all, but you see multiple regions have kind of formed; you can study the synapses and electrical activity and early developmental differences.” [..]

“We can regrow your Neanderthal brain,” said Camp. “We can monitor that and resurrect the functionality of those neanderthal genes.”

Don’t laugh, mini-brains are a big thing these days. An April 2018 Nature editorial prepares reader to expect everything:

“As brain surrogates become larger and more sophisticated, the possibility of them having capabilities akin to human sentience might become less remote. Such capacities could include being able to feel (to some degree) pleasure, pain or distress; being able to store and retrieve memories; or perhaps even having some perception of agency or awareness of self.”

Top: perfect, round and highly intelligent human neurospheres (or mini-brains), bottom: small shrivelled and retarded “Neanderthal” mini-brains. Source: Muotri and Science magazine

Never mind mini-brains, I am not even sure about all those sentient capacities being fully present even in certain Neanderthal researchers. Enter Alysson Muotri, geneticist at UC San Diego in USA, who “focuses on modeling neurological diseases, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, using human induced pluripotent stem cells“. Muotri made it into Science Magazine in June 2018, because he published not even a paper or preprint with any data in it, but a bizarre conference abstract. Muotri announced to have used his powerful H. sapiens brain to postulate which genes is responsible for superior sapiens development, and then used CRISPR gene editing technology to modify that gene in human induced pluripotent cells, from which he then grew “mini-brains”, with the purpose:

“We’re trying to recreate Neanderthal minds”

The autism researcher Muotri concluded that his shrivelled anti-social “Neanderoids” contents of a cell culture dish explain everything: Neanderthals were worse than autists, utterly unable of any social interaction or orientation, no wonder they kept bumping into sleeping lions and bears who then ate them all. Of course the California genius professor has great plans:

“Muotri has developed the modern human brain organoids to the stage where his team can detect oscillating electrical signals within the balls of tissue. They are now wiring the organoids to robots that resemble crabs, hoping the organoids will learn to control the robots’ movements. Ultimately, Muotri wants to pit them against robots run by brain Neanderoids.”


Neanderthals’ problem of credibility is not being alive today, so they can’t become professors and prove the inferiority of sapiens brain. Image: Neanderthal Museum, Düsseldorf.

Neanderthal Phrenology, by Smut Clyde

Previous generations didn’t have the video games and social media and digital communication that they could conjure into dire warnings about mental deterioration and the reversion of the young peoples into Morlocks. Instead they made do with the unprecedented speed and easy availability of automotive transport, which would inevitably change the skulls of drivers into a more elongate shape, as a form of streamlining, with concomitant effects upon the mind, heralding a a future of brutish, degraded, degenerate mentalities when the asylums would overflow. ***

A natural train of thought – the local commuter train, not the fast express service – leads us to Kochiyama et al. (2018), who recently compared the Neanderthal and the Anatomically Modern Skull, to delineate the differences in shape and infer how this must have impacted on Neanderthal cognition. By “the Neandertal Skull” we mean four individual crania, each reassembled from fragments with state-of-the-art ‘guesswork’ methods to interpolate the missing bits; and the same for the four representatives of Cro-Magnon. Later steps in the guesswork logic assume that the volumes of brain lobes are linked rigidly to the shape of the skull, and only radial deformations are possible: for instance, if someone’s forehead is compressed, the frontal lobe behind it must be smaller.

Proof that Neanderthals were unable of any intellectually stimulating social interactions, from Kochiyama at al, Sci Reports 2018

This explains the absence of frontal-lobe functioning among Mayans, other pre-Columbian cultures, East Germanic tribes, French peasants, and umpteen other groups known to modify their infants’ cranial profiles with head-binding for aesthetic purposes and status enhancement.

Anyway… Kochiyama et al. are described as pioneers in this burgeoning new field of Quantified Neanderthal Phrenology:

But as SR co-author Naomichi Ogihara told Scientific American, they are the first to actually digitally reconstruct Neanderthal brains.
“Our method allows estimation of the shape and volume of each brain region, which is quite impossible just by analyzing the endocranial surfaces.”

The claim to precedence is true as long as one ignores a slightly-earlier and less-well-publicised study (Neubauer, Hublin and Gunz, 2018). Isn’t it always the same? You wait for ages for a paper on Neandertal Phrenology and then two come along at once.

Neanderthal brains were not sufficiently globular. They likely believed in flat-earth theory and were unable to build a classic 3-spheres-and-a-carrot snowman. From Neugebauer et al Science Advances 2018

It is quite likely that the notion of extrapolating from skull shape to brain function had occurred to many people in the past, but had previously been rejected as patently daft.

In the Golden Age of craniometry in the early 1900s, skull-caliper hobbyists and gentlemen dilettante-anthropologists liked to divide populations into those with bradycephalic and dolichocephalic heads… long narrow heads (the latter kind) were more common in Europe, and therefore superior. But no-one argued that the owners of wider, brachycephalic skulls also possessed larger temporal lobes and would be more skilled in language, memory and facial recognition.*

Now both studies fall within a recognised literary genre in which novelists and evolutionary psychologists and other authors of fiction speculate about the mental differences between Neanderthals and their anatomically-modern contemporaries, and about the racial-memory Original-Sin scars inflicted on the latter by the trauma of having to exterminate the former. Authors follow a roughly 30-year cycle, explaining the current revival of this literary tradition: see Wells 1921; Harness 1953; Golding 1955; Kurtén 1978; Auel 1980.**

It goes without saying that Neanderthals must have differed in some respect, for they are no longer extant and there must be some reason for this. Also no-one wants to miss an opportunity to talk about ourselves and ‘human nature’ in the guise of talking about what we are not. If Neanderthals had not existed then it would be necessary to invent them.

Avid Riddled readers (is there any other kind?) will recall the beginning of this revival with the ‘visual brain‘ theory from 2013. In this, evolution assigned so much of the Neanderthal cortex to processing visual information (in compensation for the lower level of lighting in their Northern European habitat of icecaps and blizzards and cave-bears) that no brain-power was left for social-cognition skills and they could not cooperate in groups. Larger eye-sockets were adduced as evidence, and explained as an adaptation to capture more photons. This is SCIENCE so evidence is not merely ‘provided’ or ‘tabled’, it is adduced.

It is a very silly theory even by the relaxed standards of Riddled, and I can only suppose that it was accepted into Proc. Roy. Soc. B because the third author was Dunbar (of the eponymous Number). Some people might think that if Neanderthals had enlarged light-trap tarsier eyes, this would do away with the need for special night-sight neural processing requiring half their cortex… but those people are the same nay-saying skeptics and cavilling pedants who also point out that Neanderthals lived all across the Levant and were not exclusively adapted to Northern Europe (that’s just where a lot of caves are where their bones turned up), so their opinions can safely be ignored.

Press-release-regurging science churnalists at the time dwelt on the elongation of the Neanderthal side of the comparison:

And in fact, Neanderthal skulls suggest that the extinct hominids had elongated regions in the back of their brains, called the “Neanderthal bun,” where the visual cortex lies.
“It looks like a Victorian lady’s head,” Dunbar told LiveScience.

Here at the Riddled Institute of Impure Science and Gratuitous Innuendo, we attribute this cerebral elongation to the extreme rapidity of the Paleolithic forms of transport favoured by Neanderthals (or perhaps they practiced head-binding), but other scholars are slow to accept this explanation.

Neubauer et al. (2018) went along with the elongation / globular narrative to account for Cro-Magnon ascendancy. In contrast, Kochiyama et al. (2018) (returning to them at last!) struck off in a new direction. Unable to find any convincing cerebral differences between their Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon reconstructions, they kept fishing, and eventually reported that modern brains have larger cerebellums. Or cerebella, as the case may be. This in turn led them to the startling conclusion that the cerebellum, previously regarded as responsible for ‘muscle sequencing / coordination’ computations for routine movements, must in fact be the centre of our highest cognitive qualities. I am not making this up:

“A new scientific analysis shows that human skulls are shaped in a way that suggests they encased brains with slightly larger cerebellums than Neanderthals. The cerebellum is a brain region associated with activities like planning, adapting to new environments, switching between tasks, and building social relationships”.

Or here

“And because cerebellar volume is linked to abilities like cognitive flexibility, language processing, and working memory capacity, the scientists argue larger cerebellar hemispheres may have helped humans survive and adapt to a dangerous world while Neanderthals could not.”

This is the point where the usual pedants and critics object that the volume and neural density of the cerebellum also tend to be greater in men than in women. Which probably means:

Neanderthals were as unorganized, antisocial, unimaginative, multi-task failures as modern-day womenfolk!

After all that, it is a relief to turn to a recent paper with a different approach to the question of Neanderthal craniometry: Gregory et al. (2017) introduced the useful concept of the “NeanderScore” and reconstructed that prototypal skull shape by measuring living people and ranking them by their proportion of Neanderthal ancestry. High NeanderScorers tended to have bigger brains, especially at the back in an “occipito-parieto-temporal patch”, and were especially endowed in the region of the intraparietal sulcus (perhaps best described as important for visual-motor skills).

Gregory et al Sci Reports 2017, Figure 2. NeanderScore related brain changes in the intraparietal sulcus. Structural variation of the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) related to percentage of Neanderthal-derived SNPs (NeanderScore). Left and middle show lateral and posterior views of the right IPS on the average brain surface, illustrating the anatomical convergence of the associations of NeanderScore with greater sulcal depth (orange; p < 0.05 FWE-corrected), gray matter volume (blue; p < 0.005), and white matter volume (yellow; p < 0.005).

There was no downside:

“It should be noted that we did not find associations of NeanderScore with smaller frontotemporal volumes38 or shortened anterior extension of the temporal lobes13, as might have been hypothesized from previous cranial analyses of H. neanderthalensis…”

The most recent, best-founded reconstructions of Neandertal appearance have an uncanny resemblance to Paula Modersohn-Becker‘s portraits of herself and husband Otto. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Artwork: Tom Björklund, with permission
* There is also Vendramini’s provocative idea that Neanderthals were superior predators while their anatomically-normal contemporaries were merely prey to be stalked and consumed. This provides a possible explanation for the extinction of the Cro-Magnons. As for Kurup and Kurup’s audacious but not particularly coherent notions about the autistic Neanderthal civilisation of Dravidian Lemuria, the less said the better.










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21 comments on “The anti-social mini-brains of Neanderthals

  1. Holy shit, this is quite the opus magnus there.
    Are there also brain regions that explain the size of the genitals of the male neanderthals? I mean dick size is important for reproduction, indeed!


    • Smut Clyde

      Are you alluding to J. Philippe Rushton’s argument — an article of faith within the “race-realist” area of the Intertubes — that low-melanin people follow a K-selection reproductive strategy whereas normal-melanin people follow an r strategy? Which is to say, dark-skinned people have big dicks, and therefore small brains, because evidently it is impossible to have both? (as proven by Rushton’s extensive perusal of porn mags).

      I do not know if Rushton ever acknowledged the role of dark-skinned women within reproduction. or spelled out how his r/K argument worked for them.


      • Clearly what ‘works’ for women is incidental… until ‘feminism’ obviously!


  2. owlbert

    A species is almost wiped out several times in the course of a few hundred millennia, and small populations scattered over a wide area continue to pass through genetic bottlenecks owing to drastic climatic events (e.g. glaciations). Fifty thousands years ago, two of those populations meet up in west-central Europe. Fast forward a few hundred generations and both original groups cannot be found but their intermixed descendants are thriving. The real mystery here is where all these “researchers” were during the first year biology lecture when hybrid vigor was mentioned. Mini brains indeed!


  3. “Just like many modern Spaniards have genetic traces of converted Jews escaping a Middle-Age Holocaust.”
    Ah, Ah, Ah,


  4. I have only just encountered another exercise in Neanderthal Phrenology which attributes H. sapiens superiority to our enlarged olfactory bulbs relative to Neanderthals:

    Apparently we have better senses of smell and taste, leading to overall better functioning of our memories and limbic systems.

    Olfactory and gustatory function, due to its rewarding characteristics and links to memory, was also suggested to participate in an effective and flexible human learning system.


  5. If anyone can answer the question, would you rather live in a cave or outside, then that answers the question of who is the smarter. The “modern humans” weren’t smart enough to get out of the rain. It’s a no brainer. The neanderthal said hmmm. Here’s a cave. Let’s get out of the rain. They were so much smarter. Plus they only hunted once a month a mammoth (instead of daily), and kept it in their freezer (outside the cave). Gee. Neanderthals were SMARTER. I’d say they were too peaceful and the “modern” humans killed them for food. They probably allowed them into their nice warm cave and got eaten.


    • Oh how much truth there is to this, they lived in smaller bands and were probably more open an emotional. Modern humans lived in large bands and developed a greater ability for diplomacy aka lying. ADHD/Naanderthal connection.. please could someone prove it? Also – Neanderthal/ O-RH Negative Blood Type Connection.


  6. To the author, Leonid Schneider: Asocial and anti-social are two different things. ‘Asocial’ means not wanting to engage in social activities and ‘anti-social’ means behavior that harms society, e.g. criminals. What you mean to say here is ‘asocial’.


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  8. I am not a scientist, but I had part of my brain cut off during two surgeries and it suffered further damage from cyberknife treatments. Didn’t make me forget English though, that’s probably how I ended up reading this in the wilderness of the internet. Enjoyed it so much. Thanks. From Russia with love.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “worse than autists,” that’s a horrible thing to say!


  10. Richard Reinertson

    “Anti-social?” But…my college roommate had a Neanderthal skull, and he was the biggest party animal I knew…so, maybe the Neanderthals died out cuz they partied all the time instead of looking for food…. Also, using my college roommate as a presumptive Neanderthal analog, he was very popular with women, which provides evidence for how interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred….

    Wow, science is fun! Imma publish a scientific paper based on my research conclusions.


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  15. Arperiod Io

    I have tried to be open-minded about Neanderthals. However, the bulk of the actual evidence, rather than speculation or fantasy, seems to strongly suggest Neanderthals were inferior to modern sapiens by most measures and with few exceptions.

    If one imagines Neanderthals were our equals, how do we explain their toolkit, which didn’t evolve throughout their entire 300,000 year existence? No innovation, no specialization, just choppers, scrapers and spear heads. Not a single bone needle has been found in association with a Neanderthal site, so they weren’t wearing fitted clothing. At best, they had blankets and ponchos. 300,000 years living in the cold, and they never figured out how to do anything beyond cutting a hole in an animal hide… No flint tips to suggest they had bows & arrows—just the same spears Heidelbergensis was using hundreds of thousands of years before them. We’ve found no evidence they even shaped stone to make lamps or food/drinking vessels.

    We have no evidence Neanderthals created art. Everywhere we’ve found anything that could possibly be construed as art, sapiens are also found. Neanderthals are known to have collected unusual stones…that’s about as close as they get to art.

    The same dullards who couldn’t get past clothing or arrows and didn’t even attempt to draw stick figures in a cave probably weren’t creating music, either. Let’s be honest here.

    “But we reproduced with them”, some will argue, “So they must have been able to communicate with us!” Ok, one of my ex husband’s buddies sent him a video clip of a man having sex with a goat. Hominids will sexually engage with pretty much anything. The last chimpanzee introgression into the human genome occurred approximately 2 million years ago, according to the X chromosome. 2 million years ago. We separated from our last common ancestor with chimpanzees at least 6 million years ago. 2 million years ago, homo erectus walked the earth—a hominid species with the same number of chromosomes as modern humans, with a body morphology so similar to modern humans you might not immediately recognize an erectus as a different species if you just glanced at one from fifty feet away. They had control of fire, used a similar toolkit as Neanderthals and may have had some type of language (just as Neanderthals most likely did). And they were having sex with chimpanzees. So the argument that Neanderthals were “on our level” because our species engaged in sex is a little ridiculous. Hominids are perverts.

    We’ve also got to face the reality that only 20-30% of the Neanderthal genome has survived in modern humans. If we high ball and go with 30%, that’s still pretty low, considering a full 80-90% of the Denisovan genome has survived. We overlapped with this species for at least 6,000 and possibly 10,000 years or more in Europe, yet only scraps of their genome survived, and most of that in non-coding (“junk”) regions. Neanderthal genes were inferior and selected against. They continue to be, up to this day. 5,000 years ago, our species had, on average, 50% more Neanderthal DNA than we do today. Among the remnants of our “lost cousins” are gene variants associated with hoarding behavior and a variety of mental illnesses. I don’t even want to think about what all they had that was selected against. But given their well-documented tendency toward frequent inbreeding, their high pitched voices, massive ogre-like brows and noses, and an inability to do pretty much anything that required creativity, well… There isn’t much to wonder. It’s like the ancestral species evolved so much, a branch gave rise to Neanderthals, and they just…squatted and died off, as dumb as they were when they started.

    Finally, the argument that Neanderthals’ frontal lobes were as well developed as modern sapiens because some cultures have practiced skull shaping tens of thousands of years AFTER the frontal lobes are known to have evolved in our species was probably the biggest knee-slapping belly laugh I got from this long-winded blog (which I admit I didn’t finish because…it was terrible).

    My final thought here is that cherry-picking the work of respected anthropologists and archaeologists while berating them through the other side of your mouth is about as weak and flawed as the Neanderthals you worship.

    I find the title of the blog rather ironic, given there’s little science to support your position.


    • You sound like a true expert, I better delete my unqualified article!


    • I wish I was a ‘dumb Neanderthal’ after reading this absolute hogswash. They didn’t have to deal with armchair experts being argumentative for the sake of it…
      Not all art is permanent and we can’t write off their intelligence from the items they’ve left behind – other parts of their life and society may just be lost to time. Yeah, they weren’t ‘smart’ by modern standards, but our own ancestors weren’t exactly solving string theory so…
      And besides, humankind has a bias in Neanderthal research. We want to prove they were inferior to justify any role we may have had in their extinction.


  16. Many autistics, while struggling greatly to accommodate neurotical social interactions and milestones, have proven to have created some of the most beautiful, inspiring and most important breakthroughs in living history. Their single-vision, fixation with patterns and even absolute obsession with their choice of interest leads them to maximize their capacity in that field. Most of the ‘great’ artists, inventors & researchers display traits that would be considered on the autistic-spectrum. So what does that imply for their intelligence & ability to adapt creatively?
    People can have entire areas of their brains removed and other areas compensate to overcome the loss. What is seen in a Neanderthal brain is not necessarily going to be comparable to a human one.

    There is a still a likely case that a physical advantage and a more aggressive pattern of behavior drove the human expansion and conquest. They probably did connect more on a socially comparable scale that we see today and that allowed them to seek out one another and out-breed their Neanderthal counterparts more easily. They grasped traits that were more subversive (like deceit, subtlety, nuances of emotional interactions that Neanderthals simply could not & did not) if you look at autistics, many of them struggle to detect things like sarcasm, irony, lies, double entendre and so they find social interactions immensely taxing and difficult when trying to interact with those who do grasp them; they retreat from it and often find solace in those who share similar traits to themselves. If Neanderthals were likewise prone to the same barriers when they came into contact with humans, then inevitably they would have become the less successful reproductive species than their counterparts. In their own groups it wouldn’t have mattered because there would be no genetic pressure to “out-breed” anyone; but with a competitor species it meant that over time they lost more and more resources, more and more potential mates and eventually the gene pool that was available would have become diluted anyway as inevitably some successful Human-Neanderthal breeding took place.

    If Neanderthals were so unintelligent and so ‘lesser’ to their human counterparts, is it likely that the human counterparts would have wished to interact with and even mate with them? You could argue for incidents of rape and displays of dominance. But it’s unlikely to be that in every instance.

    They weren’t ‘less’ intelligent, they were just intelligent in a different way, a way that aided their own expansion and survival throughout many different climate zones, environmental changes, illnesses and they developed their own society in response; there is evidence to suggest they had very complex societies and rituals, with early technologies and methodologies already in place that we would later adapt and embrace into our own society. They were likely visionaries and dreamers of the ancient world, they dealt in abstracts and general concepts. All this was something that served them well when it was just them. But their kind of intelligence was just not compatible with the human social intelligence. Humans were detail-honed, practical realists and survivors, they just simply overwhelmed them with their own type of social structure and the only trace of Neanderthals were preserved by the few instances of inter-breeding that did occur.


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