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Neanderthals weren’t so ignorant after all: Study finds they were cultured master craftsmen who even might’ve understood chemistry

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Neanderthals were once depicted as thuggish cavemen that scraped an existence on the cold lands of ice age Europe. But a series of discoveries are now putting Neanderthals into a new light, suggesting they were skilled tool makers with adept hand eye coordination

It claims they regularly used fire, and were capable of making weapons using pyrotechnics.

‘Both recently obtained genetic evidence and archeological data show that the biological and cultural gaps between these populations were probably smaller than previously thought,’ Wil Roebroeks and Marie Soressia of Leiden University wrote in the journal PNAS.

‘These data, reviewed here, falsify inferences to the effect that, compared with their near-modern contemporaries in Africa, Neandertals were outliers in terms of behavioral complexity.’

The latest research claims they used fire more than expected.

‘Most Neandertal sites yielded traces of fire use, at some sites in the form of stacked fireplaces—simple lenses of ash and charcoal—testifying to repetitive occurrences of fires over longer periods of time, as at Roc de Marsal (France) and Kebara (Israel), features comparable to the fire places of the Klasies River Mouth caves in South Africa,’ they wrote.

The heat treatment of silcrete in the African MSA has been presented as ‘the earliest known pyrotechnology’

A ‘remarkable’ discovery of a ring-like stone structures in a cave in France suggests Neanderthals worked in teams to build complex structures.

In 1992, a cave in south west France was discovered with around 400 structures made from broken stalagmites, about 1100 feet (336 metres) from the cave’s entrance (pictured). A team of researchers at the University of Bordeaux have dated the structures to 176,000 years ago

Stone buildings are thought to have only emerged in modern humans with the development of farming around 10,000 years ago.

But the new study, which is published in the journal Nature, suggest that 176,000 years ago, Neanderthals were already constructing stone structures in a cave in south west France.

Archaeologists first discovered the ring of 400 broken pieces of stalagmites about 1,100 feet (336 metres) from the entrance of the Bruniquel cave in 1992.

They formed several rings – one of which was nearly 22 feet wide.

However, they remained unstudied until a team of researchers at the University of Bordeaux decided to look at them.

They have now dated the structures to 176,000 years ago.

They say the structures could have formed part of a refuge or had a symbolic meaning to the Neanderthals who built them.

‘We did not expect a Neanderthal attendance in the deep underground cave, so far from the entrance,’ Professor Jacques Jaubert, lead author of the study, told MailOnline.

He said the structures suggest the Neanderthals must have moved up to 2.5 tons (2.3 tonnes) of material to build them.

The structures in the Bruniquel cave (3D reconstruction of structures after deleting more recent stalagmite growth pictured) were dated to be 176,500-years-old. There were 400 of these broken staligmites that had been arranged into rings that totalled 367 feet (112 metres) in length

The structures in the Bruniquel cave (3D reconstruction of structures after deleting more recent stalagmite growth pictured) were dated to be 176,500-years-old. There were 400 of these broken staligmites that had been arranged into rings that totalled 367 feet (112 metres) in length

The presence of the mysterious structures so deep in the cave (pictured) along with marks caused by fire, shows the Neanderthals must have mastered how to work underground and use their own artificial light

This, he said, would have required a remarkable amount of cooperation as the group worked together with a preconceived plan with leaders, advisers and manufacturers.

He said: ‘All this indicates a structured society – having a project, then to find the raw material, then tear [the] stalagmites. Then fragmenting, knapping [them] into regular elements.’

The researchers also found the remains of marks left by fire, which suggests the Neanderthals used artificial light to help them work so far underground.

The findings ‘would be significant for any period of time, but at around 175,000 years, these must have been made by early Neanderthals, the only known human inhabitants of Europe at this time,’ Professor Chris Stringer, anthropologist at the Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the research, told MailOnline.

Neanderthals lived in Eurasia from around 400,000 to 40,000 years ago, at which point anatomically modern humans settled in.

Previous examples of human habitation reach 98 or 130 feet (30 or 40 metres) into the dark zones of caves from sites of this or even greater age in Africa.

Neanderthals were once depicted as thuggish cavemen that scraped an existence on the cold lands of ice age Europe. But a series of discoveries are now putting Neanderthals into a new light, suggesting they were skilled tool makers with adept hand eye coordination

‘But the Bruniquel occupation is around ten times deeper into the cave, and shows constructions as complex as some made by modern humans only 20 or 30,000 years ago,’ Professor Stringer said.

‘This discovery provides clear evidence that Neanderthals had fully human capabilities in the planning and the construction of ‘stone’ structures, and that some of them penetrated deep into caves where artificial lighting would have been essential.’.

The Neanderthals must have moved 400 pieces, weighing up to 2.5 tons (2.3 tonnes). It would have required the group to work together with a preconceived plan with leaders, advisers and manufacturers. ¿All this indicates a structured society¿

The Neanderthals must have moved 400 pieces, weighing up to 2.5 tons (2.3 tonnes). It would have required the group to work together with a preconceived plan with leaders, advisers and manufacturers. ‘All this indicates a structured society’

In 1992, a cave in south west France was discovered with around 400 structures made from broken stalagmites, about 1,100 feet (336 metres) from the cave’s entrance. Location of the cave in France pictured

The Bruniquel occupation (pictured) is around ten times deeper into the cave than any other construction found from this time, and shows constructions as complex as some made by modern humans only 20 or 30,000 years ago.

SMART, SOPHISTICATED AND ARTISTIC: THE NEW VIEW OF NEANDERTHALS

Neanderthals first emerged around 280,000 years ago, spreading to inhabit much of Europe and parts of Asia, but they eventually died out 40,000 years ago.

The reason for their demise was often put down to being a more primative species of human that was unable to compete against the more sophisticated Homo sapiens.

They were depicted as thuggish cavemen that scraped an existence on the cold lands of ice age Europe.

However, a series of discoveries are now putting Neanderthals into a new light. Stone tools discovered at sites they inhabited suggest they were skilled tool makers with adept hand eye coordination.

A 60,000-year-old multi-purpose bone tool unearthed in France also suggests Neanderthals understood how to use bones to make useful devices

A recent discovery by researchers at the Muséum National d’Histories Naturelle in Paris suggests that Neanderthals may have built homes using the materials they found around them.

They discovered a 26 feet wide building created 44,000 years ago from mammoth bones.

Many of the bones had also been decorated carvings and ochre pigments.

Cross-hatched engravings found inside Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar are also thought to be the first known examples of Neanderthal rock art.

DNA analysis has also shown that Neanderthals carried the same genes that are thought to have enabled modern humans to speak.

Eight talons found at a 130,000 year old Neanderthal site in Krapina in Croatia are also thought to be the world’s first jewellery, and may have been worn as a necklace.

Now the latest evidence mounting in favour of a more sophisticated view of the ancient humans is the structures found 1100 feet (330 metres) deep into a cave in France.

Neanderthals may have used the powdered rocks to lower the temperatures needed to light wood shavings. If they controlled fire in this way, then it has wide ranging implications for their cognitive abilities, society and culture. A stock image illustrating Neanderthals around a fire is pictured

Neanderthals may have used the powdered rocks to lower the temperatures needed to light wood shavings. If they controlled fire in this way, then it has wide ranging implications for their cognitive abilities, society and culture. A stock image illustrating Neanderthals around a fire is pictured

The complex Bruniquel structures have been dated to within a long cold glacial stage, and at that time the cave might have provided a temporary refuge from the cold. The location of the cave in south west France pictured

The complex Bruniquel structures have been dated to within a long cold glacial stage, and at that time the cave might have provided a temporary refuge from the cold. The location of the cave in south west France pictured

‘If the dates are correct then this is a hugely exciting development in our understanding of the lives of the Neanderthals,’ Dr Simon Underdown, senior lecturer in Biological Anthropology from Oxford Brookes University told MailOnline.

‘The considerable time and effort needed to build such a structure clearly indicates a shared plan and extensive cooperation.’

The complex Bruniquel structures have been dated to within a long cold glacial stage, and at that time the cave might have provided a temporary refuge from the cold.

‘It’s finally time to put away the old image of the Neanderthals as stupid and embrace them as a fully human species,’ added Dr Underdown.

But why the Neanderthals built the structures remains a mystery.

‘The purpose of the structures and concentrated combustion zones which are mostly on the broken stalagmites rather than on the ground remain enigmatic, but they demonstrate that some Neanderthals, at least, were as much ‘at home’ deep within the cave as at its entrance’ Professor Stringer said.

The researchers hope to excavate the site to find remains of the humans that may have constructed the structures.

‘The project this year [is] to make a test-pit inside the great structure, to survey the archaeological soil and, if it’s possible, to find some remains’ Professor Jaubert said.

If there is still-buried debris from occupation, it would help to determine whether this was a functional refuge or shelter, perhaps roofed using wood and skins, or something which had more symbolic or ritual significance.

The fossilised remains of Neanderthals, like the skull above, are revealing more details about the human cousins’ lifestyles. DNA analysis has also shown that Neanderthals carried the same genes that are thought to have enabled modern humans to speak

'It's finally time to put away the old image of the Neanderthals as stupid and embrace them as a fully human species,' Dr Simon Underdown senior lecturer in Biological Anthropology from Oxford Brookes University told MailOnline

‘It’s finally time to put away the old image of the Neanderthals as stupid and embrace them as a fully human species,’ Dr Simon Underdown senior lecturer in Biological Anthropology from Oxford Brookes University told MailOnline

THE GREAT CHIN DEBATE

This diagram shows some of the physical differences between the early human ancestor Australopithecus afarensis and the later Homo erectus. Genetic bottlenecks may have resulted in some of these physical ‘deformities’, such as shorter arms and smaller feet, occurring and drove the evolution of human behaviour

The chin has mystified scientists for decades because no other species, including our primate and Neanderthal ancestors, have one.

A number of different explanations have been put forward for the apparently useless appendage, including the idea that it helps humans attract a mate.

Others have argued the development of the chin could be a purely random example of ‘genetic drift’, with no evolutionary purpose whatsoever.

But recent research suggests the jaw evolved and shrank to deal with the fact that cooking was making food softer.

A paper from the University of Florida is the latest attempt to explain exactly why humans – unlike all other primates – have chins.

The researchers calculated the chin began to emerge some time between six million and 200,000 years ago, with the most likely estimate being around two million years ago.

This would coincide with the enormous leap forward in human intelligence, which led to breakthroughs including the invention of cooking.

However, a second study published just a week after the first, suggests another reason for the chin – it was the result of falling hormone levels that also caused our ancestors to become more sociable and stopped them fighting over territories.




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Sydney Chesterfield

Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Humanitarian, mad lover of children and unflinching fighter for equality on all grounds viz. Women's rights, child rights, sine die.

Twitter: @syd_field