Life's Little Mysteries

What If Neanderthals Had Not Gone Extinct?

An artist's depiction of a Neanderthal family. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

During the new DC Comics Universe series "Flashpoint," in which a time-traveling supervillain alters the past to warp the present, Life's Little Mysteries presents a 10-part series that examines what would happen if a major event in the history of the universe had gone just slightly differently.

Part 1: What if ... Neanderthals had not gone extinct?

Neanderthals were a species of the human genus that lived in Europe and western Asia spanning a period some 130,000 to 30,000 years ago. The stereotypical "caveman," at least in appearance, Neanderthals had prominent brow ridges and sloping foreheads, as well as shorter legs and broader shoulders. Theories of their demise point to Homo sapiens (us) outcompeting them for food and territory as the last ice age set in, which sealed the Neanderthals' fate.

Life would be: A bit more like a Geico commercial? Neanderthals could have persisted in pockets in Europe even until modern times, and it's possible they would have the capacity to think, speak and act much like us .

But it's far more likely that Neanderthals, even if they had made it through the last ice age, would have been "assimilated or killed off," said Will Harcourt-Smith, a professor at the City University of New York and a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History.

Recent genetic analyses have shown that modern Eurasians have 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal DNA in their genome , indicating that the two species could, and did, interbreed . Neanderthals had a much smaller initial population than Homo sapiens, so, unless Neanderthals kept strictly to themselves, humans would have bred them out of existence probably before the need for car insurance ever arose. If that had ended up being the case, more of our DNA would bear the Neanderthal imprint, and maybe — just maybe — some physical traits would remain as well.

NEXT: What would the world be like if the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs never hit Earth .

Head to for complete Flashpoint coverage.

Adam Hadhazy
Adam Hadhazy is a contributing writer for Live Science and He often writes about physics, psychology, animal behavior and story topics in general that explore the blurring line between today's science fiction and tomorrow's science fact. Adam has a Master of Arts degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College. When not squeezing in reruns of Star Trek, Adam likes hurling a Frisbee or dining on spicy food. You can check out more of his work at