apparent discovery that Neanderthal's were making highly sophisticated use of fire during their heyday some 400,000 to 30,000 years ago. This included a bit of home-spun low-oxygen chemistry in manufacturing sticky pitch to help with building better tools. Given the undeniably spotty nature of the data then it seems plausible that this species had plenty more tricks up its metaphorical sleeve.
There is something extremely spooky about all of this. We know that there was once more than one distinct hominid species walking around on Earth. It seems increasingly likely that they all had good, thinking, brains. Whatever happened to eradicate, or conceivably subsume, a species like Neanderthal we may never know. Nagging suspicions include the distinct possibility that we modern humans, or rather our Cro-Magnon ancestors might have had a hand in it. We're certainly still adept at genocidal behavior.
I think this has special relevance to discussions of 'intelligent' life in the universe. It's possibly of critical importance. One angle that people take in trying to predict the likelihood of intelligence in the cosmos is the 'Rare Earth' hypothesis. This has cropped up before, so I won't go into detail here. This is really based on the notion that here we are, the sole "intelligent" life on the planet, and many distinct phenomena have to be just-so for that to have happened. A similar argument applies to any physiologically complex life. But let's turn the clock back to 35,000 BC. Now there's a world with at least 2 intelligent, but distinct, species of hominids walking around. It might be wrong to think that this was a freakish moment in Earth history. That would presume that our current status is an end-point, an equilibrium. It's no more so than the world of H. Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon (us), Denisova Hominin, and who knows who else. Yes, you can still make similar Rare Earth arguments for 35,000 BC, but eventually it has to be hard to deny that Earth was generating "intelligent" species with some amount of abandon - it'd be easier to assume that this isn't such a delicate phenomenon after all.
So the question I think this raises is whether we're missing something important about the nature of the rise of "intelligence" (as in technology, tool making, abstract thinking) on a planet. This impacts how we might search for it in the universe (from SETI to sniffing for signs of industry in planetary atmospheres), and whether it's likely to be looking around itself (listening, traveling, building signposts).
One question is: if we had today another intelligent species on Earth would we have the same level of curiosity for finding intelligence in the cosmos? It might just seem that much more mundane. Are intelligent worlds quiet and introspective because they just don't care?
Another, more sinister possibility is that multiple intelligent species can co-exist only for so long. Eventually resources become limited enough to force survival of the fittest and they annihilate each other. You might well say that this can happen for a single species just as readily. But imagine for a moment. This is another species we're talking about. What would you do if it was us or the dolphins, seriously? Whatever morality might exist will be worn pretty thin when it's your species on the line. This could lead to a curious resolution to the Fermi Paradox. The paradox is: given the age of the galaxy then if intelligent life is not incredibly rare should it not have spread enough for us to have already come across it? Perhaps intelligent life does occur in abundance. So much so that it usually crops up in several versions on a single planet, whereupon inter-species conflict wipes it all out again. Paradox solved.
What about us then? Perhaps the awful truth is that while we survived and Neanderthal's didn't, we weren't the smart ones.