Look how smart he got in the last few decades:
This from a discussion of whether Neanderthals had language:
Based on these results, most researchers agree Neanderthals were capable of emitting and hearing complex vocalizations. However, they disagree over the implications. While some consider the findings indicative of speech-based language in Neanderthals, others propose these features could have evolved for other reasons, like singing. Neanderthals may have lacked the cognitive abilities for language, but possessed the physical anatomy for musical calls to attract mates or sooth infants.
To assess if Neanderthals had the brains for language, researchers usually rely on proxies from the archaeological record — artifacts that required the same cognitive prerequisites as language, such as hierarchical organization or abstract symbolic thought. The latter is necessary to encode sounds with meanings and evidenced by artifacts like beads and cave paintings.
So did Neanderthals make those things? Eh, well, maybe. A few cases of Neanderthal ornaments and paintings have been reported, but are so rare that researchers question their authorship and antiquity. However, Neanderthals could have been symbolic in other ways. For instance, at many Neanderthal sites, archaeologists have found butchered wing bones from birds of prey. This could indicate Neanderthals adorned themselves with feathers (which did not preserve) imbued with symbolic meaning.Bridget Alex, “The Ongoing Debate Over Neanderthal Language” at Discover
We don’t have many Neanderthal remains to study though. Some of us remember when the first Neanderthal art was found and it was a bombshell.
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See also: Neanderthals did know how to start fires
Researchers: Neanderthals used fire to forge tools 170 kya
Was Neanderthal man fully human? The role racism played in assessing the evidence
Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
A deep and abiding need for Neanderthals to be stupid. Why?