The Neanderthal genome tells us we were very similar: in fact we interbred. But intellect and invention meant that we lived while they perished, says Robin McKie
On the ground floor of the Natural History Museum in London, arrays of Formica-covered cabinets stretch from floor to ceiling and from one end of the great building to the other. Some of nature's finest glories are stored here: pygmy hippo bones from Sicily, mammoth tusks from Siberia and skulls of giant sloths from South America.
Many treasures compete for attention, but there is one sample, kept in a small plywood box, that deserves especial interest: the Swanscombe skull. Found near Gravesend last century, it is made up of three pieces of the brain case of a 400,000-year-old female and is one of only half-a-dozen bits of skeleton that can be traced to men and women who lived in Britain before the end of the last ice age. Human remains do not get more precious than this.
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