The classic ‘caveman’, Neanderthals – homo neanderthalensis – were native to Europe, Western Asia and Central Asia. The earliest Neanderthal characteristics evolved at around this time – fossil evidence (admittedly incomplete) suggests that the full differentiation of the species had taken place by 130,000 BCE.
They were not, as is often thought, the ancestors of modern humanity, but rather a rival species that our ancestors wiped out in a competition for space and resources.
The earliest known example of tool making by a hominid species, the Mousterian tools were created by members of the species homo neanderthalensis. They were primarily a flint-based technology, consisting mostly of cutting and scraping tools. Their name derives from Le Moustier in France, where such tools were discovered. However, it is unlikely that Le Moustier is the actual site of the tools’ origin, as similar tools have been found throughout Europe, the Near East and North Africa. Wherever they were invented, they clearly disseminated widely and – one assumes – swiftly.
The advent of tool making is the beginning of humanity’s technology-enabled conquest of the world. Up until this point, our ancestors were one species among many – a little smarter than most, but not especially better adapted than any other. Tool making changed that, making hominid species deadlier and more efficient hunters, and leading in time to the technological civilization that anyone reading this lives in today.
It’s unclear exactly how our nearest hominid relatives went extinct, but the leading candidates are our direct ancestors: whether fucking or fighting.
I mean that quite literally: some of them interbred with homo sapiens until they no longer existed as a separate species, or they just plain got killed by other homo sapiens. At their widest range, Neandertals occupied lands from Ireland and Spain in the west through to the southern Urals in the East. They did not go extinct everywhere at the same time, of course, but the precise details are somewhat obscured by the incompleteness of the fossil record.