December 3, 2013
Neanderthals Organized Their Homes Like Modern Humans
[ Watch the Video: Clean Your Room, Neanderthal! ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Neanderthals possessed organizational skills similar to modern humans, showing yet another similarity between us and our ancient cousins. Researchers writing in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology say they found that Neanderthals organized their living spaces in ways similar to modern humans. They say that the sub-species of Homo sapiens butchered animals, made tools and gathered around the fire in different parts of their shelters.
"There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans," said Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver and lead author of the study. "But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space."
Riel-Salvatore and colleagues excavated at a collapsed rock shelter in northwest Italy where Neanderthals and early humans lived for thousands of years. The study focused on Neanderthal levels while future research will examine the more recent modern human levels at the site.
The scientists found Neanderthal evidence in three levels. that Neanderthals divided the cave into different areas for vairied activities. The top level was used most likely as a hunting stand where Neanderthals could kill and prepare game. The middle level was a long-term base camp, while the bottom level was used as a shorter term residential base camp.
The team found large quantities of animal remains in the back of the top level, leading them to conclude that the area was most likely used for butchering their kills. They also found evidence of ochre use in the shelter, which was a commonly used pigment for painting walls in some cultures.
"We found some ochre throughout the sequence but we are not sure what it was used for," Riel-Salvatore said. "Neanderthals could have used it for tanning hides, for gluing, as an antiseptic or even for symbolic purposes – we really can't tell at this point."
The middle layer of the cave showed dense traces of human occupation, including artifacts that were distributed differently. They found animal bones lying at the front of the middle level rather than the rear of the cave, as well as stone tools. A hearth was found in the back of the cave a few feet from the wall, which could have allowed warmth from the fire to circulate.
"When you make stone tools there is a lot of debris that you don't want in high traffic areas or you risk injuring yourself," Riel-Salvatore said. "There are clearly fewer stone artifacts in the back of the shelter near the hearth."
Julien and his team discovered more stone artifacts immediately inside the cave’s mouth, which suggests tool production could have occurred inside the part of the site where sunlight was available. Shellfish fragments were also discovered in the cave, suggesting that Neanderthals used the sea as a source for food.
During an earlier excavation, Riel-Salvatore found that Neanderthals were highly innovative, creating bone tools, ornaments and projectile points. After this study, he claimed that interbreeding between Neanderthals and humans may have led to the ultimate demise of the hominins. Scientists believe that Neanderthal genes make up between one and four percent of the human genome, particularly among modern Europeans.
Riel-Salvatore said the work is still ongoing, but the big picture from the latest study is that scientists have one more example that Neanderthals used logic to organize their lives.
"This is still more evidence that they were more sophisticated than many have given them credit for. If we are going to identify modern human behavior on the basis of organized spatial patterns, then you have to extend it to Neanderthals as well,” Riel-Salvatore said.