This may look like just a bit of old rope and, OK yes, it is a bit of old rope. But it’s an important bit.
Researchers say the six-millimetre-long cord fragment discovered in Abri du Maras, France, is the oldest known direct evidence of fibre technology – using natural fibres to create yarn – and furthers our understanding of the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals during the Middle Palaeolithic period.
Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Bruce Hardy, from Kenyon College, US, and colleagues dated it to between 41,000 and 52,000 years ago.
The previous oldest reported discovery was of fibre fragments from the Ohalo II site in Israel, dating back to around 19,000 years ago.
The new find comprises three bundles of fibres twisted together and stuck to a 60-millimetre-long, thin stone tool. The fibres were likely taken from the inner bark of a non-flowering tree such as a conifer.
The authors suggest that production of the cord would have required extensive knowledge of the growth and seasonality of the trees used. They also speculate that Neanderthals may have needed an understanding of mathematical concepts and basic numeracy skills to create three-ply cord and rope from multiple cords.
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