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Published on Oct 25, 2012
A team of scientists and paleo-artists has created a more accurate Neanderthal reconstruction, based on a nearly complete skeleton discovered in France more than 100 years ago. The La Ferrassie Neanderthal man was short but stocky. If a modern man came nose-to-nose with a Neanderthal, could he take him in a fight?
Possibly. A Neanderthal would have a clear power advantage over his Homo sapiens opponent. Many of the Neanderthals archaeologists have recovered had Popeye forearms, possibly the result of a life spent stabbing wooly mammoths and dismantling their carcasses. Neanderthal also had a wider pelvis and lower center of gravity, which would have made him a powerful grappler.
That doesn't mean that we would be an easy kill for our extinct relative. Homo sapiens probably has a longer reach and more stamina. And we could deploy these advantages to maximum effect using our superior wits. Neanderthals on average were about 4 inches shorter than modern American men. So, a guy of above-average build would have an excellent chance of defeating a Neanderthal in hand-to-hand combat if he could keep his opponent at arm's length, survive the initial onslaught and wear him down.
Of course, Neanderthals are lightweights compared to some of our other evolutionary neighbors. You would not want to encounter Homo heidelbergensis on a deserted sidewalk. Some specimens were more than seven feet tall, and they were cannibalistic at times, which means they knew how to fight other archaic humans. Paranthropus boisei would also have been a terror in combat. That creature had powerful jaws, enormous teeth, very well-developed back muscles and is often described as a gorilla head on a human body.