Neanderthal Males Had Popeye-Like Arms

Arm bone remains show that Neanderthals were unusually pumped up on male hormones, possibly due to an all-meat diet.

Jennifer Viegas

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  • Remains of an early Neanderthal from Russia suggests these hominids had "peculiar" hormones.
  • Neanderthal's unique hormonal status resulted in very strong males.
  • Genes, climate and an all-meat diet likely led to their unusual hormonal status.


Neanderthal males had unusually strong upper arms, particularly on the right side, research shows. Remains of an early Neanderthal with a super strong arm suggest that Neanderthal fellows were heavily pumped up on male hormones, possessing a hormonal status unlike anything that exists in humans today, according to a recent paper.

Neanderthal males probably evolved their ultra macho ways due to lifestyle, genes, climate and diet factors, suggests the study, published in the journal Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology   of Eurasia.

Project leader Maria Mednikova told Discovery News that Neanderthal males hunted in the "extreme," helping to beef up one arm.

"The common method for killing animals was direct contact with the victim," said Mednikova, a professor in the Institute of Archaeology at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Instead of shooting prey, such as mammoths, with a bow and arrow from a distance, Neanderthal males would engage in face-to-face contact, jabbing long, thick spears directly into the animal's flesh.

Neanderthal females weren't delicate creatures either.

Mednikova and her colleagues believe that "compared to anatomically modern humans, (both male and female Neanderthals) had a larger muscle mass and experienced a higher loading on the upper extremity than did Homo sapiens." Also, "they differed from modern humans by a greater functional difference between the sexes in the use of the right arm."

Neanderthal males had Popeye-type right arms, while Neanderthal females had arms that were more evenly matched and not nearly as muscular.

Mednikova and her team analyzed a fossil humerus (long bone that extends from the shoulder to the elbow) for what they believe was an Neanderthal male that might have lived around 100,000 years ago in what is now Khvalynsk, Russia. The bone was put through computerized tomography, X-rays and other analysis.

The fossil displays an unusual mixture of thickened walls with narrow bone marrow region cavities. This, according to the scientists, suggests "intense mineralization" provided for the strong, sturdy bone structure, with the inner narrowness "based on a stronger shaft architecture requiring much less mineralization."

The mixture is puzzling, because "Neanderthals demonstrate a markedly androgenic constitution," meaning they seemed to have a lot of steroids, yet these same hormones can cause reduced mineralization.