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All Cavemen Were Neanderthals

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Guy: Cavemen! Stand back. They're practically animals. You see those bony, sloping foreheads?
Eep: Yeah...
Guy: The huge, primitive teeth.
Eep: Yeah.
Guy: The excessive bodyhair—ooh! That one's got a tail!

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. They're typically rather unintelligent or at least simple-minded, and highly unsophisticated on a technical level — most will be (sometimes literally) knuckle-walking brutes who speak in a vocabulary-deprived Hulk Speak, clad in primitive animal pelts and fighting with simple Primitive Clubs. The may have just mastered a haphazard control over fire, and the brighter specimens may be all abuzz about new and experimental technologies such as the wheel.

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, not on the Cro-Magnons (the first generation of anatomical humans to inhabit Europe), but 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 mistakenly 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. While closely related to modern humans, it's believed that they were not our ancestors, except perhaps in a small way — evidence from the Neanderthal Genome Project shows that interbreeding occurred between Neanderthals and H. sapiens in the Middle East 80,000 to 50,000 years ago, while in Europe, interbreeding is also believed to have occurred, as populations of modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted for around the same time. 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, while Polynesian and Oceanian DNA shows signs of interbreeding with a different close relative of humanity, the Denisovans, as the Neanderthals never ranged that far eastward. Since the Neanderthals were hardier than Cro-Magnons, there is evidence that they were better at handling certain common illnesses endemic to temperate and colder climates, and interbreeding transferred genes that are of direct benefit to the functioning of our immune system.

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, although that extra brainpower was directed to different functions than in a modern human.note  They were creative enough to know how to make glue from pitch and to make clothing and art, conducted funerary rituals similar to early modern humans, 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 Arctic-level conditions, they really weren't dumber than modern humans, just different.

Even visually, the divergence between Neanderthals and modern human is often exaggerated too. Far from hulking, inhumanly-proportioned monsters, Neanderthals weren't that scary-looking; if you dressed one of them in modern clothing and put him among the passengers in a subway car, pretty much nobody would notice him.

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, and Handsome Heroic Caveman, where the man will be more attractive to go with a more modern sense of morality. For more bestial humanoids, check out Frazetta Man. Even earlier than these guys are Original Man.


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  • 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.
    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ryu the Cave Boy, the cavemen believe in ridiculous omens, sell their children in exchange for resources, wear lioncloth and no shoes, and generally are idiotic brutes.
    Comic Books 
  • Batman '66: Largely subverted in the continuation comic, where Egghead's Devolution Device turns Batman and Robin into neanderthals. While somewhat more impulsive than their normal selves, the 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.
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe: Larry Gonick mentions this, 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!
  • Tragg and the Sky Gods: Tragg's tribe are shorter, stockier, and hairier than Tragg, who is the first modern human man.
  • The Truth For Youth: Inverted in the tract about evolution. Apparently, the cavemen were all humans because Neanderthals never even existed.
  • 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.
  • In The Goon story "The Deceit of a Cro-Magnon Dandy", the villainous Dapper is referred to as a Cro-Magnon but he looks more like a Neanderthal, if not something even more primitive.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side: Every depiction of cavemen follows this model. They're short and bulky, with wide torsos, 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. They're otherwise primitive, simple folk who only wear loincloths, inhabit the badlands and jungles of Hollywood Prehistory, wield crude clubs, speak in broken English and are just beginning to figure out the simplest rudiments of the world. One strip has a bunch of Cro-Magnon taunting the Neanderthals from afar... but look exactly alike.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Croods: The titular family 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Troglodytes in Bone Tomahawk are superhumanly strong, ugly, and stupid.
  • Eegah!: Played straight with the titular caveman, who seems to be of more-or-less animal level intelligence, and is given a Non-Malicious Monster portrayal heavily modeled on King Kong (1933). However, he cleans up nicely, with the heroine even commenting on his handsomeness after shaving off his beard, and he doesn't have any particular prosthetics to make him look weird - although he's played by Richard Kiel, who was a very distinctive-looking man to begin with.
  • Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks: The cavemen are explicitly stated to be Neanderthals. They are hulking brutes much larger and stronger than an average man.
  • The Neanderthal Man is about a Mad Scientist who turns himself into a Neanderthal with a special formula to prove a point. In Neanderthal mode, he's a hairy-faced apelike killer along the lines of Mr. Hyde.
  • Out of Darkness: Thoroughly averted; the band is composed of anatomically and behaviorally modern humans, with full language. Actual Neanderthals do appear at the end, but though they are physically different from humans, they are just as intelligent, having their own language and customs.

  • Boneland: The parellel story involves 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.
  • Earth's Children: Subverted. The 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, they communicate with a sophisticated Signed Language plus vocalizations. However, the Others believe Neandertals 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.
  • The Lords of Creation: 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.
  • Quest for Fire is an early subversion of this trope. The protagonists are generically neanderthal but the other tribes they encounter clearly represent separate species of hominid. The afterword of the 2020 English edition identifies the Kzamm, Wah, Red Dwarves, Blue-haired men and Men of the trees as Homo antecessor, Homo sapiens, Homo luzonensis, Gigantopithecus and Pierolapithecus catalaunicus respectively.
  • Riverworld: Justified with Joe the Gigantopithecus man and friend of Mark Twain. Gigantopithecus was actually an ape (how it compares in terms of intelligence to modern apes is uncertain) that grew up to ten feet tall.
    • Played 100% straight however with Kazz the Neanderthal.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Beer Bad", cavemen that the college students are turned into 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.
  • Cavemen: Joel, Andy and Nick have the appearance of Neanderthals but claim to be Cro-Magnons.
  • Farscape: In "My Three Crichtons", an alien probe produces two alternate versions of Crichton, an hyper-evolved egghead and a bestial protohuman.
  • Saturday Night Live has the "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" who was unfrozen and became a sophisticated modern man. However, whenever he needs to win something, he pulls out the "I'm just a simple unfrozen caveman who is confused by your modern world" act.
  • Sliders: The Kromaggs are a menacing race that evolved from Neanderthals (despite the name) and like to eat other humans.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "The Galileo Seven", there are giant alien cavemen threatening a shuttlecraft.

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

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The 3.5 supplement Frostburn features Neanderthals as a race of throwbacks dwelling in cold regions. They are on average bigger and taller, stronger, and more adapted to cold climates than humans are, but have lower than average mental and social traits and favor weapons made from wood, bone, antlers and animal fangs.
  • Hero System: "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 
  • Bloons Tower Defense: The sixth game has the Cave Monkey as a Secret Character exclusive to the map "Frozen Over". It is a large, brutish, physically imposing monkey (much more so than most of the many other monkeys in the game) who can be seen frozen below the surface of the icy lake and freed by a Mortar Tower, at which point it will appear on the map and hit Bloons with its huge wooden club.
  • Chrono Trigger: Zigzagged. 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). They're also shown to be fairly intelligent under their simplified speech pattern, and they have a reasonably well-developed society, complete with a trading system.
  • EarthBound (1994): One of the enemies hanging out around Stonehenge is the stereotypical neanderthal, complete with fur tunic and club.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Prehistorik's terrible reboot noticeably redesigns the protagonist to make him look more like a neanderthal, with much bigger arms and slightly hunched-over posture.

    Western Animation 
  • The Backyardigans: Zigzagged in "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.
  • Dave the Barbarian: Candy was hit by a de-evolution spell, which turned her into an enormous, dim-witted and easily angered super cavegirl.
  • Dino-Boy: Ugg the caveman plays 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Subverted in another episode, when Johnny tries to create a hockey team with historical warriors. The caveman is a giant brute, but so are the viking, the Black Knight, and Attila the Hun.
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series: In "Retro", 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 and so on. When Nani's human friends and Lilo are affected, they turn into burly, hairy neanderthal women who walk in a hunched manner and speak mainly in grunts.
  • Looney Tunes: One 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).
  • Martin Mystery: Java the neanderthal is called "Java the caveman" as well as a Neanderthal interchangeably. Played with, as he has the gorilla-like build of a stereotypical caveman and the Hulk Speak, but on several occasions, he's shown himself to be decently intelligent or at least resourceful.
  • 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.
  • In the Totally Spies! episode, "Head Shrinker Much?", the villain tries to make himself the smartest human alive by making everyone else dumber, turning them into Neanderthals. Alex and Jerry get hit with the villain's machine, but thankfully for them and everyone else who got turned into Neanderthals, the process is reversible.
  • Phineas and Ferb: The Caveman from "Boyfriend From 27,000 BC", though not as hulking as other examples, still is tall and strong-looking.
  • Primal (2019): Spear, the protagonist, is a bulky, muscular caveman with massive arms and a slouching posture who often assumes a Primal Stance. He's also incredibly strong and capable of beating a dinosaur ten times his size in one-on-one combat. The setting also has a number of different Human Subspecies such as the albino cave-dwellers in "Terror of the Blood Moon". The first season ends with the introduction of Mira, a Homo sapiens woman, and Season 2 shows many more examples of Homo sapiens, suggesting that Spear really is a neanderthal.
  • Young Justice (2010): The version of Vandal Savage used 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. He also doesn't slouch at all, and when he fights he's savage but precise and deadly.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life 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), the Denisovans, and 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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