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All Cavemen Were Neanderthals

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Whenever a cave man is depicted in media, he will often be The Big Guy, having more muscles and stature than his descendants. This is especially true if he's a regular character who has somehow been de-evolved, but usually it's a defrosted Human Popsicle scenario.

Cave women, in the rare cases where they appear, are usually matronly and physically stronger than their modern counterparts, sometimes up to a Brawn Hilda-type, unless they're just here for Fanservice in which case they're Nubile Savages.

This is usually a case of poor research; the author is basing the caveman, rather than on Cro-Magnon humans, on the Neanderthals who were stockier and likely stronger, but still shorter than Cro-Magnon man. It's almost as if in fiction humanity evolved from the Frazetta Man. The trope was invented by the fact that one of the first prehistoric skeletons was of a heavily arthritic old man with osteoporosis. Scientists somehow assumed he was the norm and not an outlier.


This may even extend to showing these super-ape-men as having Super Strength, being incredibly athletic and acrobatic, and generally being savage fighters; which isn't quite so preposterous for a number of reasons.

Just for the record, compared to modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens) the Neanderthal man was either a separate species (Homo neanderthalensis) or a subspecies (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis), probably depending on who you ask. They evolved in Eurasia while we evolved in Africa. They were not our ancestors, except perhaps in a small way - there is the hypothesis, now backed by evidence from the Neanderthal Genome Project, that small-scale interbreeding occurred between Neanderthals and H. sapiens in the Middle East 80,000 to 50,000 years ago. Most Caucasians and Asians seem to have a bit of Neanderthal DNA, while people of entirely African descent have none because there were never Neanderthals in Africa-there was Rhodesia Man, or Archaic Homo sapiens, who is sometimes called "African Neanderthal" but apparently was not of the same racial group.


There is a practical aspect to this trope. This is often simply a result of the fact the easiest way to depict a caveman on Live-Action TV is to add brow ridges, fake hair, animal skin clothing, etc., to an actor, so the resulting Rubber-Forehead Alien will be slightly larger than a human, and rather large actors are often cast in the part.

This is usually a double case of artistic liberties — most often, Neanderthal cavemen are depicted as nothing but simple, dumb brutes capable of barely a grunt. The various sciences researching them indicate that this is untrue, too — in fact, they had larger brains than humans.note  They were creative enough to know how to make glue from pitch, make clothing, art, and used a complex technique for making tools called Levallois and later Mosterian, which modern humans also used at the same time. Considering they had to endure Artic level conditions, they really weren't dumber than modern humans, just different.

Contrast: Nubile Savage, where prehistoric men will be hulking, ugly brutes, but prehistoric women are pinup models with bodies that exactly correspond to the current standards of beauty. For more bestial humanoids, check out Frazetta Man. Even earlier than these guys are Original Man.


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     Comic Books  
  • Atlas/Seaboard Comics' The Brute.
  • Larry Gonick mentions this in The Cartoon History of the Universe, observing that the term "caveman" is not wholly accurate, as many Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon communities lived in tents and other man-made shelters. The term "caveman" came from the fact that caves tend to preserve fossils better, so more fossils of primitive tribes are located in caves.
    Prehistoric female: We don't all live in caves, and we're not all men!
    Prehistoric male: Thank Yog!
  • Java, the right-hand caveman of Simon Stagg, enemy of DC Comics's Metamorpho, is a defrosted neanderthal.
  • DC Comics once published the adventures of Anthro, "The First Boy on Earth", a Cro-Magnon boy raised by a Neanderthal tribe.
  • Largely subverted in the Batman '66 continuation comic, where Egghead's Devolution Device turns Batman & Robin into neanderthals. While somewhat more impulsive than their normal selves, the Dynamic Duo retain most of their reasoning and speech functions; Batman even points out how current scientific theory indicates neanderthals weren't significantly dumber than modern humans.
  • Inverted in Tim Todd's The Truth for Youth tract about evolution. Apparently, the cavemen were all humans because Neanderthals never even existed.
  • In Tragg and the Sky Gods, Tragg's tribe are never referred to as Neanderthals, but they certainly look like them. They are shorter, stockier, and hairier than Tragg, who is the first modern human man.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): While not explicitly called Neanderthals the comic's depiction of the first victim to die from domestic abuse is a cavewoman who along with her mate have stooped figures, Neanderthal facial features and do not speak.

  • The GEICO Cavemen. Played straight with their looks, but subverted in that the cavemen complain that they're being stereotyped as dumb brutes. Sadly being played straighter and straighter as of late, as the one remaining caveman is becoming portrayed more and more as Too Dumb to Live, albeit in an Upper-Class Twit sort of way.

  • Played straight in Eegah!, with the titular caveman played by Richard Kiel.
  • Averted in Encino Man. When 'cleaned up', the caveman is indistinguishable from 'normal' humans except for his decidedly odd behavior.
  • Averted in The Man from Earth: characters explicitly say that a 14000 years old caveman would be exactly like anyone, only one initially believed that cavemen were different.
  • The title family of The Croods fits - but not Guy, who is both smarter and looks like a contemporary man. He's also a weakling, compared to the Croods. Even his Love Interest Eep is able to easily lift him with one hand.
  • The cavemen in Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks are explicitly stated to be Neanderthals. They are hulking brutes much larger and stronger than an average man.
  • Averted in Quest for Fire. The three protagonists are neanderthals, encountering the more advanced cro-magnons for the first time.
  • Averted in Ice Age. The humans from the first film are quite realistic Neanderthals. The Christmas Special introduces a modern human in the form of Santa Claus.

  • Justified with Joe the Gigantopithecus man and friend of Mark Twain in Philip José Farmer's Riverworld. Gigantopithecus was actually an ape (how it compares in terms of intelligence to modern apes is uncertain) that grew up to 10 feet tall.
  • The Thursday Next series features cloned Neanderthals, brought back to life as cheap labor for the all-powerful Goliath Corporation. Contrary to expectations, the Neanderthals are in fact a quite intelligent and peaceful bunch, albeit very different from humans in that they have no singular personal pronoun (always referring to themselves as "we" instead of "I") and their communities exist in a state of peaceful anarchy. Their pet political cause is to be cloned with the ability to reproduce, since Goliath made them all sterile as a way of undermining their freedom.
  • Completely subverted in Robert J Sawyers Neanderthal Parallax trilogy in which Barasts (Neanderthal's) are obviously a different species from humanity's ancestors and are rather a cousin species that continued to develop in an alternate reality.
  • In David Zindell's Neverness and Requiem for Homo Sapiens, the ancestors of the cave-dwelling Alaloi genetically reverse engineered themselves into Neanderthals.
  • Subverted in Jean Auel's Earth's Children series, where the Neandertals (the Clan) are shown to be intelligent and, in some aspects, have a better culture and ideas than the Cro-Magnon people (the Others). Because it was believed Neandertals were incapable of complex speech, she has them communicate with a sophisticated Signed Language plus vocaliations. However, to the Others, Neandertals are believed to be little more than animals. The protagonist, a Cro-Magnon woman raised in the Clan, spends a lot of time giving her own people an education on what the "flatheads" are really like.
  • Averted in Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Eternal Lover (aka The Eternal Savage); Nu and his people live in caves, but they appear to be modern humans.
  • Mostly played straight in S.M. Stirling's The Lords of Creation series. The Neanderthals on Venus are thuggish, violent, and have almost no regard for their own lives (although they do have recognizable family units and will protect their children and other vulnerable individuals). Played with in that the Neanderthals have had thousands of years of independent evolution on terraformed Venus, and may have been genetically or otherwise manipulated along the way by the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens responsible for the setting.
  • Averted in Chrono Hustle. When Jack visits the Stone Age, he initially meets Neanderthals, but Cro-Magnons show up in the story as well.
  • Averted with Jeffrey Brown's Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series of children's graphic novels. The Neanderthal characters are depicted based on actual research of what Neanderthals were like and the ending of the first book and the upcoming second book show them dealing with the arrival of and living with modern humans.
  • The parellel story in Alan Garner's Boneland involved a member of a slightly pre-human hominid race, inferred to be a Neanderthal, who has the culture shock of encountering Cro-Magnons for the first time. Garner infers that from the point of view of the Cro-Magnons, this was the beginning of the cultural myth that humans share their world with cave-dwelling goblins - a degenerate version of which appear in his later fantasy novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and 'The Moon of Gomrath. Boneland is in this context and interpretation a rationalisation of the earlier fantasy works in the mind of their human protagonist, then a child now grown to uneasy adulthood.

     Live Action TV  
  • In the original Star Trek series episode "The Galileo Seven", there were giant alien cavemen threatening a shuttlecraft.
  • Subverted in the Next Generation episode "Genesis": a devolution plague affects Riker by turning him into an Australopithecus, an early human ancestor.
  • The cavemen that the college students are turned into in the Buffy episode "Beer Bad" are like this, though in this case it was the result of a punitive magic spell and thus no one was trying for scientific accuracy. In contrast, the First Slayer, as seen in "Restless", was physically like a modern human and could speak. As newer research reveal that Neanderthals could speak and were capable of some more sophisticated customs (like funerals and memorial places), the "cavemen" in this particular Buffy episode resemble Homo Erectus more than the Neanderthal stock.
  • On Saturday Night Live there was the "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" who was unfrozen and became a sophisticated modern man. But whenever he needed to win something he'd pull out the "I'm just a simple unfrozen caveman who is confused by your modern world".
  • Nimrod, the time-displaced prehistoric human in the Doctor Who story "Ghost Light", is a Neanderthal, although intelligent and well-spoken.
  • In Sliders, the Kromaggs were a menacing race that evolved from Neanderthals � and liked to eat other humans!
  • In the Farscape episode "My Three Crichtons", an alien probe produced two alternate versions of Crichton, including a hyper-evolved egghead and a bestial protohuman.
  • Cavemen: Joel, Andy and Nick have the appearance of Neanderthals but claim to be Cro-Magnons.
  • Power Rangers Dino Charge: Averted. Koda is over 100,000 years old, so well within the time Neanderthals were still alive, but is not one, as he is intellectually and physically indistinguishable from a modern human.

  • Caveman plays this trope painfully straight, from the large club the caveman wields to the woman dragged By the Hair.

     Newspaper Comics  
  • Pretty much every depiction of cavemen in Gary Larson's The Far Side follows the Neanderthal model. They're short and bulky, with small heads and big brow ridges, but with the exception of the brow ridge they more or less look like every other human character in the strips. One strip has a bunch of Cro-Magnon taunting the Neanderthals from afar... but look exactly alike.

     Tabletop RPG  
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Frostburn supplement featured Neanderthals as a race of throwbacks dwelling in cold regions. They are on average bigger (including taller), stronger, and more adapted to cold climates but have lower than average mental and social traits. This could be justified as game balance and shoehorning the creatures into the supplement. Odd in that, the orc is usually a fantastic stand in for primitive man.
    • Hill giants greatly resemble this, especially in earlier editions' only they're MUCH larger!
  • "Caveman Cortez", one of the NPC luchadors in Lucha Libre Hero, has the stereotypical Neanderthal look. Subverted in that he's also a licensed private investigator.

     Video Games  
  • In EarthBound, the cave boy was basically The Big Guy... with a wooden club.
  • NetHack. The Caveman role starts with high strength, but low intelligence and primitive weapons (rocks and a club). The guardians on the Caveman quest are even called neanderthals.
  • In 1992 game Ugh! the protagonist caveman is short and stocky. Smart enough to build a pedal-driven wooden helicopter, but strong enough to actually fly it. All to impress his Nubile Savage girlfriend. Here they are.
  • Zigzagged in Chrono Trigger. Where most of the male cavemen's sprites are hairy and club-wielding, Kino is an exception, with the ending cutscene making him look like a blond Crono (and the cavemen are the standard lowbrowed brutes).
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time: The zombies in Frostbite Caves (taking place in the Ice Age) are lowbrowed. The Troglobite and Sloth Gargantuar play this straight, both having muscular builds and exhibiting Super Strength. The female Weasel Hoarder averts it- she's average in stature, fully clothed, and also one of the weakest zombies in terms of health.
  • In Far Cry Primal, the very Neanderthal-like Udam tribe fits this, being very primitive and living in caves, but they're rapidly dying out due to kuru and inbreeding, with the more advanced Wenja and Izila tribes taking their place.

     Western Animation  
  • Candy in Dave the Barbarian was hit by a de-evolution spell, which turned her into an enormous, dim-witted and easily angered super cavegirl.
  • Cave Guy from Freakazoid!
  • Java the neanderthal from Martin Mystery is called him "Java the caveman" as well as a Neanderthal interchangeably.
  • The Caveman from the Phineas and Ferb episode "Boyfriend from 20,000 B.C.", though not as hulking as other examples, still is tall and strong-looking.
  • One Looney Tunes short has Marvin the Martian hit Bugs Bunny with a devolving ray, which turns Bugs into a big, hulking Neanderthal rabbit.
    • This is actually a bizarre case; while this would be an error if Bugs was human, as a rabbit it would make marginally more sense, as prehistoric animals were typically larger in size than their modern day counterparts. Nuralagus rex, also known as the Minorcan Giant Lagomorph, weighed 12kg (26lbs) on average and could weigh up to 23kg (50lbs).
  • The Flintstones averts this big time.
  • Spongebob Squarepants depicts prehistoric versions of Spongebob and Patrick in an episode with the prehistoric starfish larger than his modern counterpart but the prehistoric sponge is more primitive but not physically much different than Spongebob. In the episode's sequel, prehistoric Squidward isn't much different than his modern counterpart except in language use. Then they discover fire... underwater.
  • Notably averted in Cro, where the titular character was, as his name implies, a Cro-Magnon and looked and acted surprisingly similar to a modern kid, very differently from his adopted Neanderthal family. They, however, acted the part to the letter.
  • Johnny Test: In "Johnny BC", Johnny brings a bone that previously belonged to a group of monstrous cavemen back to his time period for his sisters. Along the way, the saliva on the bone from the cavemen cross contaminated with Johnny and turned him into a caveman himself. He proceeds to cause trouble by smashing things with a conveniently placed wooden mallet, slobber over his girl rival, beat up the school bullies, and chase after anything fire related.
  • The version of Vandal Savage used on Young Justice is a Neanderthal (other versions of the character have been Cro-magnon). He's a hulking, primordial beast of a man (complete with facial scars courtesy of a long-ago encounter with a cave bear), true to stereotype- but unlike the stereotype he's also incredibly intelligent and eloquent, as befits one of the DC Universe's most dangerous villains.
  • Ugg the caveman from the 1980s (1960s?) Hanna-Barbera series Dino-Boy played this straight. However, the Lost Valley contains many strange hominids, from the Treemen (which are even more ape-like than Ugg is, complete with tails) to more modern-human like beings, such as the Bird Riders and the Wolf People.
  • Mercilessly exploited in one of the episodes of Lilo & Stitch: The Series, where the Monster of the Week, Experiment #210, creates chaos across Hawaii by reverting everything to a more primitive state, turning a cell phone into an early 19th century telephone, a car into a Victorian station wagon, a yacht into an ice-age canoe, a tiger into a saber-toothed tiger, an elephant into a mammoth etc. Obviously when Nani's human friends are affected, they turn into burly, hairy neanderthal women who walk in a hunched manner and speak mainly in grunts.
  • Averted in the "Longhair and Doubledome" shorts on The Cartoon Cartoon Show. The title characters were a pair of wisecracking Cro-magnons who considered themselves smarter than their hulking Neanderthal neighbors.
  • The second episode of Il était une fois... L'homme focuses on Neanderthals. The very next episode, on the other hand, averts this by focusing on Cro-Magnons.
  • Zigzagged in The Backyardigans episode "Cave Party", in which our backyard friends imagine themselves as cavepeople. While they enjoy saying "ugh" and howling at the full moon, they are also very prolific inventors.
  • Spear, the protagonist of Primal (2019) is a bulky, muscular caveman with massive arms and a slouching posture who often assumes a Primal Stance (fittingly). He's also incredibly strong and capable of beating a dinosaur ten times his size in one-on-one combat.
  • DuckTales (2017) redesigns Bubba the cave-duck with longer, bulkier arms allowing for a Primal Stance. However, he is also re-characterized as amazingly intelligent, adapting to the modern age in less than a day, as a stark aversion to the dimwitted portrayal of prehistoric human.

     Real Life  
  • In Real Life, trolls may have been based on folk memory or skeletons of short, stout Neanderthals. Then again, we seem to be wired to believe in Elves vs. Dwarves, whether it's aliens, foreigners, or what-have-you.
    • Interesting in that modern humans would fill the Elves' role, being thin and (compared to Neanderthals) extremely gracile. We also exhibited a higher degree of neoteny, so perhaps we would have seemed creepily alluring. The fact that on occasion we killed (and maybe even butchered and ate) Neanderthals pushes us into The Fair Folk territory.
    • Whereas Neanderthals were short and stout, and current facial reconstructions depict them with a rather large, somewhat bulbous nose, large heavy brows, and a receding chin. Cover the chin with a long beard, and you have a dwarf (as well as a reason for them to never shave the beard off, if they had the same standards of masculine attractiveness as modern humans).
  • Real Life of course has a wide variety of "cavemen," including Homo species habilis, heidelbergensis, erectus, floresiensis (the famous "hobbits", these fellows were around 3 1/2 feet tall), and of course neanderthalensis, the Neanderthals. The evidence is that Neanderthals were not dumb brutes but capable of complex tool industries, some small level of symbolism, and possibly complex speech. They also buried their dead and seem to have developed some sort of religion. They also had larger brain cases than we do. They did not, however, seem to have much creativity and stuck with one or two tool industries for their entire span of existence, one of which may (or may not) have been their attempt to mimic H. sapiens tools, though this may be because only the stone tools have survived to modernity. While Neanderthals had more muscle mass than H. sapiens and would've been physically stronger, their limbs were less suited for throwing spears and thus they were inferior hunters, and they would've had less endurance than H. sapiens. In Europe there was a significant degree of interbreeding between Neanderthals and Cro-Mangons, with all modern humans of European descent having a significant amount of Neanderthal DNA. This has led to speculation that Neanderthal extinction didn't come from being killed or out-competed by the H. sapiens population, but by being absorbed into it.
    • Homo heidelbergensis actually fits the stereotypical "Neanderthal" role seen in fiction: they were taller and more muscular than modern humans, and are presumed to have been slightly less intelligent. heidelbergensis averaged 6 feet tall, compared to around 5'5" for the average Cro-Magnon and 5'8" to 5'10" for today's humans (all heights being for men, with women averaging several inches shorter).
    • Another contender would be Meganthropus, which was either a non-human ape that's more closely related to us than even chimpanzees, or a particularly large subspecies of Homo erectus (the ancestor of both modern humans and Neanderthals). The only remains so far are fragmentary so it's hard to be sure, but some estimates place them as larger than gorillas (which would make them taller and a lot stockier on average than Homo sapiens). Though other estimates say they were just ordinary Homo erectus. Unless more complete fossils are found it's impossible to tell.
  • The vast majority of prehistoric hominids, like the vast majority of primates overall, were smaller than anatomically-modern humans. Whether or not they were stronger than humans is debatable, as it's uncertain when hominid strength began to be sacrificed in exchange for the extended endurance which was our own species' chief physical-fitness asset.


Video Example(s):


"Bob" Cooper

Bob is a prehistoric raccoon. Instead of the sleek physiology that Sly and his other ancestors share, he is large, muscular and less handsome than them. No more hairy, though.

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