If ever there’s been a group of hominids misunderstood and denigrated more than the poor, long-suffering Neanderthal clan, I don’t know who they are. Once thought to be–to paraphrase the words of that eternal ray of sunshine Thomas Hobbes–nasty, brutish, short and stupid, the Neanderthal has been experiencing something of a renaissance of late. Scientists are discovering that Neanderthals were smarter, more successful and more human-like than we ever imagined. Now, as it turns out, scientists also believe Neanderthals were pretty good domestic divas, and they’ve got the huge right arms to prove it.

From this story on
The unusually powerful right arms of Neanderthals may not be due to a spear-hunting life as once suggested, but rather one often spent scraping animal skins for clothes and shelters, researchers say…Neanderthals apparently had unusually strong right arms, judging by their right humerus — the long arm bone underlying the biceps and triceps — which often boasted protrusions with which to attach powerful muscles.

“Neanderthals have really interesting upper bodies,” researcher Colin Shaw, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge in England, told LiveScience. “If you and I are both right-handed, you’d expect 4 to 13 percent asymmetry between our arms. Neanderthals have up to 50 percent or more asymmetry. They were doing something with their dominant arms that were either more intense or repetitive or both than we do today. The only population of modern people that we see who are similar are tennis players, who hit tennis balls many, many years aggressively.”

According to the story, scientists originally thought those Popeye-like arms were the result of thrusting spears and such, but after testing a group of modern men on a variety of hunting-related spear thrusts, then tested those same men on a variety of meat and hide-processing tasks like scraping hides. The results?

The researchers found that spear-thrusting led to significantly higher muscle activity on the left side of the body than on the right, opposite to what is seen in Neanderthal fossils.”Spear-thrusting did not appear to explain the mystery,” Shaw said. In comparison, scraping tasks led to much higher muscle activity on the right side than on the left, suggesting they may explain the details often seen in Neanderthal skeletons. “While hunting was important to Neanderthals, our research suggests that much of their time was spent performing other tasks, such as preparing the skins of large animals,” Shaw said.

So there you have it: Neanderthal men got so buff and manly not by running wild and free across the plains hunting with their Neanderthal buddies, but by staying home and helping out the wife with domestic duties. Some things never change.