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 Fan Service in which case they're Nubile Savages.

This is usually a case of Did Not Do the 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.

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.

Just for the record, compared to modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens) the Neanderthal man was either a seperate 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 occured 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 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 Did Not Do the Research - 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.

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.

Examples of All Cavemen Were Neanderthals include:


  • 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.

Comic Books

  • Atlas/Seaboard Comics' The Brute.
  • Larry Gonick mentions this in his 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.


  • 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 14,000-year-old caveman would be exactly like anyone, only one initially believed that cavemen were different.


  • 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 Parrallax trilogy in which Barast's (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 Earth's Children, where the Neandertals (the Clan) are shown to be intelligent and, in some aspects, have better things than the Cro-Magnon people (the Others). However, to the Others, Neandertals are believed to be little more than animals.

Live-Action TV

  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Galileo Seven", there was an episode where there were giant alien cavemen threatening a shuttlecraft.
    • Played absolutely straight in the Next Generation episode "Genesis": a devolution plague affects Riker by turning him into a caveman, not only giving him brow ridges, but also making the already tall man grow enough to burst rips into his uniform.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
    • To be fair, so are the rest of Larson's characters. With the exception of the brow ridge.

Tabletop Games

  • 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.
  • "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 a 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.

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.
    • So, no real change then?
  • 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 12 kg on average and could weigh up to 23 kg.
  • 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.
  • In an episode of The Tick (I'm almost sure) a mad genius kidnaps history's greatest inventors so they can't invent those things and he can. One of the abductees is a cavewoman who invented the wheel. So we finally get to find out the name of the inventor of the wheel it's Wheel

Real Life

  • In Real Life, trolls may have been based on folk memory or skeletons of short, stout Neandertals. 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 3½ 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 most likely, 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.
    • 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).
  • 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.