For decades scientists believed Neanderthals developed `modern' tools and ornaments solely through contact with Homo sapiens, but new research from the University of Colorado Denver now shows these sturdy ancients could adapt, innovate and evolve technology on their own.
The findings by anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore challenge a half-century of conventional wisdom maintaining that Neanderthals were thick-skulled, primitive `cavemen' overrun and outcompeted by more advanced modern humans arriving in Europe from Africa.
"Basically, I am rehabilitating Neanderthals," said Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at UC Denver. "They were far more resourceful than we have given them credit for."
His research, to be published in December's Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, was based on seven years of studying Neanderthal sites throughout Italy, with special focus on the vanished Uluzzian culture.
About 42,000 years ago, the Aurignacian culture, attributed to modern Homo sapiens, appeared in northern Italy while central Italy continued to be occupied by Neanderthals of the Mousterian culture which had been around for at least 100,000 years. At this time a new culture arose in the south, one also thought to be created by Neanderthals. They were the Uluzzian and they were very different.
Riel-Salvatore identified projectile points, ochre, bone tools, ornaments and possible evidence of fishing and small game hunting at Uluzzian archeological sites throughout southern Italy. Such innovations are not traditionally associated with Neanderthals, strongly suggesting that they evolved independently, possibly due to dramatic changes in climate. More importantly, they emerged in an area geographically separated from modern humans.
"My conclusion is that if the Uluzzian is a Neanderthal culture it suggests that contacts with modern humans are not necessary to explain the origin of this new behavior. This stands in contrast to the ideas of the past 50 years that Neanderthals had to be acculturated to humans to come up with this technology," he said. "When we show Neanderthals could innovate on their own it casts them in a new light. It `humanizes' them if you will."
via Neanderthals more advanced than previously thought.
I don't think most people get the fact that there were two entirely different species of humans sharing the planet once. Not something you'll find in religious teachings, right? Perhaps parts of the Gilgamesh story have ancient origins, handed down for tens of thousands of years. One might make a case that Enkidu, the wild man from the forest, was a Neanderthal. I like the theory that some Neanderthal ancestors survived under ground and are now responsible for occasional Bigfoot sightings. They may be as smarter than we are, smart enough to avoid us. Wouldn't that be a discovery!