Secrets of the Neanderthals Premieres on Netflix


Secrets of the Neanderthals, a new documentary from BBC Studios Science Unit, has premiered on Netflix globally.

The film features new discoveries and advancements in science that allow for a deeper understanding of modern humans’ closest relatives, the Neanderthals, who survived for over 300,000 years. The documentary takes viewers to various archaeological sites around the world to find out why Neanderthals were so successful for so long and why they disappeared.

It features exclusive access to the Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan and follows a group of archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and Liverpool John Moores University, led by Professor Graeme Barker, as they team up with their Kurdish colleagues to excavate the iconic site for the first time since 1960. Over several seasons, they make a startling discovery—a new body, named Shanidar Z. It is the first articulated Neanderthal skeleton found in the region for almost a quarter of a century.

Alongside the new discovery, the team reinvestigates some of the other bodies found in the cave during the original excavations between 1953 and 1960 by Dr. Ralph Solecki. Using innovative new VFX techniques, the underlying shape of Neanderthal skulls has been mapped onto the faces of modern human actors, allowing the lost Neanderthal world to be brought to life with realistic reconstructions.

In Krapina, Croatia, the film takes viewers into a cave where evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism may contain a hidden meaning. In a secret location in Bruniquel, France, a ring of stalagmites is discovered deep in a cave, built by Neanderthals some 170,000 years before Stonehenge. And, in the Gorham’s Cave complex of Gibraltar, evidence shows one of the last places Neanderthals inhabited before they went extinct.

All of these discoveries come together in the documentary to portray a new understanding of modern humans’ distant cousins.

“What a privilege it has been to be able to tell this story about one of the most important prehistoric caves on the planet,” said Andrew Cohen, head of the BBC Studios Science Unit. “A treasure trove of archaeology that is yielding so much new information about the life and times of the Neanderthals.”

Gideon Bradshaw, executive producer at BBC Studios Science Unit, added, “With thoughtful casting, incredibly realistic prosthetic make-up and meticulously crafted wardrobe—all enhanced by a revolutionary CGI technique—we have been able to bring Neanderthals to life like never before. Every design choice, every scene, is built upon evidence from the archaeological record, supervised by the world’s leading Neanderthal experts.”