Neanderthals were more ‘human’ than we think

Research has shown that Neanderthal and modern humans organised their living spaces similarly.

“Like Homo sapiens, Neanderthals organized their living space in a structured way, according to the different tasks that took place there and to their needs,” says lead author of new research, Amélie Vallerand from the University of Montreal, Canada.

“So, this is yet another study indicating that Neanderthals were more ‘human’ than is generally assumed.”

Results from the analysis published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

The study is further evidence that the image of the relatively primitive Neanderthal is not accurate and that these ancient humans were very similar to our own ancestors.

Archaeologists mapped sites of both ancient Homo sapiens and Neanderthals in northwestern Italy. They looked at the distribution of stone tools, animal bones, ochre and marine shells. This gave the scientists a model of how the space was organised, identifying clusters of artefacts and materials.

The sites are in the Riparo Bombrini rock shelter just kilometres from the Italian-French border.

Dating the populations that occupied the sites can be estimated by looking at the types of tools they used.

The Homo sapiens dwellings are associated with Protoaurignacian technology, which dates to about 43,000 to 37,000 years ago. The Neanderthal sites are Mousterian which is a stone tool technology which lasted from 160,000 to about 40,000 years ago.

“By tallying the number of contiguous units of the same type of clusters, we could discern patterns to help us identify the activities carried out by these groups,” says Vallerand.

The team analysed the spaces using both quantitative and statistical methods. They found Neanderthal and Homo sapiens organised their living spaces in much the same way.

“This homogeneity in spatial distribution hinted at an underlying structure in how these ancient humans utilized the space,” Vallerand adds.

Both groups of ancient human showed structured use of space. Living quarters were organised into distinct areas of low or high intensity activities.

There were some noticeable differences, however. Neanderthal sites had fewer clusters of artefacts. Neanderthal also used the Riparo Bombrini caves sporadically between periods of rapid climatic variance. Homo sapiens, meanwhile, alternated between periods of short or long term stays.

There is no evidence that the two human species interacted at Riparo Bombrini. Yet, the authors write, “there’s an underlying logic to how the space was used” which was shared between them.

Buy cosmos print magazine

Please login to favourite this article.