Could a Modern Human Beat a Neanderthal in a Fight?

It’s hypothetical conflict, but who would emerge the victor?

Hermann Schaaffhausen

If a modern man came face-to-face with a Neanderthal, who would emerge the victor in a fight? Slate ponders this hypothetical conflict:

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 straight-tusked elephants to death and dismantling their carcasses. Neanderthals also developed strong trapezius, deltoid, and tricep muscles by dragging 50 pounds of meat 30 miles home to their families. A Neanderthal had a wider pelvis and lower center of gravity than Homo sapiens, which would have made him a powerful grappler.

But humans, don’t resign yourselves to defeat just yet.

Homo sapiens probably has a longer reach, on average, than Neanderthals did, and more stamina. Most importantly, we could deploy these advantages to maximum effect using our superior wits. It’s obviously speculative, but a modern man 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.

Other factors to consider: each individual’s particular intellectual and physical abilities, as well as training. Neanderthals gussied themselves up with paints and shells and might have played a sort of primitive flute—they weren’t without creativity. Of course, if a Neanderthal of any size was thrown into the ring with a trained MMA fighter or martial artist, he would be at an extreme disadvantage since the expert fighter would know just where to strike to inflict most damage.

Slate concludes that there’s no way of knowing who would win this battle but cautions that against other potential enemies—such as Homo heidelbergensis, who grew more than seven feet tall and had a tendency towards cannibalism, or Paranthropus boisei, who is described as “a gorilla head on a human body”—a human’s odds likely wouldn’t be quite as high, regardless of wit and training.

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