The perception of Neanderthals as big, stupid oafs has been mostly debunked. Now, a new study is helping buck another stereotype depicting the human relatives as especially prone to violence. The idea stems from trauma, particularly to the head and neck, visible among Neanderthal remains. When researchers compiled reports on the skull bones of 114 Neanderthals and 90 early modern humans who inhabited Europe and Asia some 20,000 to 80,000 years ago, however, they found similar levels of head injuries in both groups, per NPR and Nature. "There is no statistical difference between the two, which means that they cannot be differentiated," says Katerina Harvati of Germany's University of Tuebingen, whose study was published Wednesday in Nature.
The study not only suggests danger from interpersonal violence, accidents, and predator attacks was as real for Neanderthals as for our own ancestors, it shows other similarities among the two groups. For example, males had a higher rate of trauma than females, as is true of humans today. Neanderthals who suffered trauma were more likely to die before the age of 30, though, with researchers speculating that they might've had a greater risk of death after injury or weren't as adept at caring for their injured as early modern humans. This "might be a key insight into why our species had such a demographic advantage over Neanderthals," per the Nature report, which raises the possibility that Neanderthals might've still had more non-cranial injuries than early modern humans. (Good thing they had a version of aspirin.)