The Neanderthals have long fascinated archaeologists and anthropologists alike. Similarity to us coupled with clear differences has produced endless theorizing. This article reviews the background to such ideas. It examines the current lines of thought about Neanderthals and explores the validity of the conclusions. The ultimate aim is the construction of a social synthesis, a solid foundation upon which the validity of inferences regarding Neanderthal cognitive ability and behavioural complexity may be examined.