There has been so much news about Neandertals lately, I really don't know where to begin. Most of it has been about the draft of a publication of the genome of Neandertals from Vindija, Croatia. This particular piece is one of the more sensible assessments, and there is also a related piece by the same author that suggests the possibility Neandertals had an artistic bent. As the author points out , there isn't any evidence that they painted on cave walls, like "modern" humans did at Chauvet Cave or later, at Lascaux or Altamira. On the other hand, some workers have suggested that Neandertals did, in fact, paint Chauvet Cave. Few people agree with this, but there's always the possibility.
And oh, the discussions that have been going on! Over at Anna's Bones, there's been an ongoing "did they or didn't they" discussion, generated in part by this latest announcement about Neandertal DNA. The claims about "interbreeding or not" rely very heavily on the apparent lack of identifiable "Neandertal genes" in some "modern" human populations. On the other hand, one has to bear in mind that human populations anywhere, 30,000 years ago, were probably relatively small and scattered. This applies to "us" as well as Neandertals. But one also has to bear in mind that Neandertal populations were even smaller and perhaps more scattered, than "modern" ones. Therefore, there wasn't a whole lot of opportunity, most of the time, for them to meet and mix it up. There is some evidence, however, that some populations, notably in the Iberian Peninsula, did, in fact, exchange genes from time to time, if the Lagar Velho child is any indication. The Lagar Velho fossil is dated to a period after Neandertals had apparently ceased to exist, but also apparently, the child seems to have some physical characteristics associated with that population, though it is considered to be a "modern" human. This suggests that, in the Iberian Peninsula, the people there were pretty "mixed". Finally, you have to bear in mind that even after there were no more Neandertals, Paleolithic populations were still pretty small, as "forager" societies often tend to be. Once farming began to spread, populations that farmed had some leeway to get larger, and it's possible that the remaining "forager" humans were simply swamped or absorbed into the larger farming populations, just as Neandertals in certain areas, may have been similarly "swamped" genetically speaking, thousands of years earlier. This, the possibility of finding genuine "Neandertal genes is probably vanishingly small.
Finally, I give. for your consideration this Ode to Neanderthal 1, courtesy of the very interesting blog Caveman's Corner. I think it is a fitting tribute to these fascinating prehistoric people, about whom we still know very little, and who, I think are often still essentially misunderstood.