The "primitive man of Steinheim" is a single find. The designation Steinheim skull can be seen as a mere reference to the location of the fossil, but in no way identifies with a certain taxon. The skull shows characteristics of both Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals. It is therefore classified by most paleoanthropologists to Homo heidelbergensis and is believed to be a transitional form of Homo heidelbergensis to Neanderthals. This has sometimes been referred to as "pre-Neanderthal.” The inner ear of the fossil has a feature in which Neanderthals and Homo sapiens differ. The location of the semicircular canals of the inner ear in the temporal bone of the skull base is similar to the situation in Neanderthals, while the semicircular canals of the older Homo erectus, which Homo sapiens are closer. 
Until the late 1980s, the fossil was sometimes referred to as Homo sapiens steinheimensis. During this time Neanderthals were also referred to as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. Today, however, paleoanthropologists assume that Neanderthals and humans emerged independently from a common ancestor, usually this is called Homo erectus, and therefore as two distinct species are to be considered: Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.
Prior to discovery of the Steinheim skull, in the gravel pit, were many archaeological objects such as bones of elephants, rhinos and wild horses. Therefore the archaeologists excavating the site were already sensitized to possible skeletal remains in the quarry. Fritz Berckhemer traveled on the same day of the skull's discovery and reviewed the still hidden skull in the wall. The next day, together with Max Bock, began the careful excavation. It was clear, on the basis of the shape and dimensions of the skull, that it was not a monkey, as was initially suspected. It turned out to be a human skull from the Pleistocene. The skull was roughly cleaned, hardened and plastered so it would arrive safe and sound in the Museum of Natural History.