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Tuesday
Aug262008

Neanderthals & Homos - Not So Dumb

I'm tempted to say this is a self-portrait but that would be somewhat disparaging to this Neanderthal man who I'm sure is much better looking than I. Scientists have just come to the conclusion that not only was Neanderthal man a looker but he was smart too - much smarter than he's historically been given credit for. Apparently his stone tools were just as good as those made by our ancestors - Homo Simpson...I mean Homo Sapien.

Boffins have been painstakingly making replicas of the stone instruments used by Neanderthals and Homos and found that the Neanderthal tools were just as efficient as anything made by Stone Age man. The Neanderthal flint tools were broader and thicker than the somewhat smaller and finer-bladed tools of Homo sapiens but they turned out to be no less efficient.

And researchers believe that the demise of the Neanderthals – which has often been explained by the supposed inferiority of their technology – could not have come about solely as a result of their stone tools being worse than those of their rivals.

Neanderthal man lived in Texas...sorry... Europe, for about 300,000 years, surviving a number of ice ages before disappearing completely about 25,000 years ago, about 10,000 years after the arrival of modern humans in Europe.

Why the Neanderthals disappeared has been an enduring mystery but studies on DNA extracted from ancient bones suggest they died out without interbreeding with the new arrivals to Europe. It is likely that the two species of humans competed against each other for limited resources in the same habitat, with the Homos coming out on top. Hang on...I'll re-phrase that...with the Homo Sapiens being the victor.

The scientists, from Exeter University, the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas State University and the Think Computer Corporation, analysed museum specimens of stone tools and learnt how to make exact replicas by knocking flakes off flint stone.

French and Belgian archaeologists recently found proof that Neanderthals - mankind's closest relatives - were living in near-tropical conditions, hunting rhinoceros and elephant, close to what is now France's Channel coast 125,000 years ago.

No traces of Neanderthal activity have previously been found in north-west Europe during this period - a 15,000-year interval between two ice ages.

Historians previously thought that Neanderthals, who thrived in cold conditions, had failed to adapt to the warmer weather and had retreated to the east or to the north. The new site at Caours, near Abbeville, close to the mouth of the river Somme, proves that this was not so.

A two-year dig by two French government research bodies has uncovered evidence of a Neanderthal "butcher's shop" on an ancient riverbank to which animals as large as rhinoceros, elephant and aurochs, the forerunner of the cow, were dragged. The Neanderthals - known to be squat, powerful people, who had language and fire and buried their dead - sliced up the animals with flint tools for their meat and pounded their bones for their marrow.

Patrick Auguste, one of the other principal researchers on the site, an expert on prehistoric animals, at the French national research body, the CNRS, said: "You have to wonder at the artistry, the exceptional skill, with which the flint tools have been shaped. The Neanderthals may have had thicker fingers than us, but they were certainly not clumsy".

More here at Exeter University

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