The first fossil in the Neander Valley was found more than 150 years ago, and the disappearance of Neanderthals – the “other humans” -- still baffles us. Each year, another astonishing hypothesis makes the news.
Exceptional hunters and skilled craftsmen, Neanderthals reigned for hundreds of thousands of years in Europe. They conquered the Middle East and expanded their territory as far as Siberia. Then, 40,000 years ago, they vanished. Homo sapiens – we! – became the victors of this ruthless evolutionary race.
What great difference between the two species could account for their divergent fates? Did our sapiens ancestors hasten Neanderthals’ extinction? Were Neanderthals truly inferior to us, as we have long thought? Behind these questions lies a profoundly contemporary and chilling mystery: How can an entire human species be extinguished?
Recent paleogenetic and archaeological discoveries have started providing real answers. Since 2010, we have known that almost all of us carry Neanderthal DNA, showing that the two species met and even mated long before the sapiens arrived in Europe. Our relationship with our cousins was much earlier and much more complex than we’d thought.
So what happened 40,000 years ago?
In this documentary, we follow the trail of clues left by these two species that are so close yet so different. Fieldwork and labwork are revealing everything from declining fertility to low genetic diversity, to inbreeding, clan structure, females’ role in the survival of the species, and the development of species-specific neurons.
These revelations will lead us to better understand what makes modern humans unique, because behind the Neanderthal enigma lies the fundamental question: Out of so many human species, why are we the only ones to have succeeded?