For the cover story of the February Scientific American I return to one of my favorite subjects: our mysterious cousins the Neandertals. This time I take stock of recent findings that bear on the question of how the cognitive abilities of Neandertals compare with anatomically modern humans. It’s an intriguing area of research, not least because in addition to illuminating the Neandertal mind, such investigations can help reveal what factors allowed anatomically modern humans—our kind—to succeed where other members of the human family failed.

Just as fascinating is the long history of Neandertal studies, which date back to the 19th century. Indeed the Neandertals are the best known of our extinct relatives. Yet they remain the most hotly debated. To see how this debate has played out over the years, check out the links below.

Was the Cave Man a House-Builder?,” by J. Reid Moir; September 1, 1926.

Neanderthal Man Not Our Ancestor,” by G. Elliot Smith; August 1, 1928.

Neanderthal Man,” by J. E. Weckler; December 1, 1957.

The Multiregional Evolution of Humans [Preview],” by Alan G. Thorne and Milford H. Wolpoff; April 1, 1992.

The Emergence of Modern Humans [Preview],” by Christopher B. Stringer; December 1, 1990.

Who Were the Neandertals?,” by Kate Wong; April 21, 2000.

How We Came to Be Human,” by Ian Tattersall; May 17, 2006.

The Mysterious Downfall of the Neandertals,” by Kate Wong; July 20, 2009.

Neandertal Genome Study Reveals That We Have a Little Caveman in Us,” by Kate Wong; May 6, 2010.

Did Neandertals Think Like Us?,” by The Editors; May 1, 2010.

Neandertal Brains Retained Infantile Shape [Podcast],” by Karen Hopkins; November 9, 2010.

Caveman Couture: Neandertals Rocked Dark Feathers,” by Kate Wong; September 18, 2012.

Sex with Other Human Species Might Have Been Secret of Homo Sapiens’s Success,” by Kate Wong; September 18, 2012.

Ancient Engraving Strengthens Case for Sophisticated Neandertals,” by Kate Wong; September 3, 2014.