Neanderthals used seashells as tools, new research


This October 2014 video is called A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins.

From PLOS:

Neanderthals went underwater for their tools

Neanderthals collected clamshells and pumice from coastal waters to use as tools

January 15, 2020

Neanderthals collected clamshells and volcanic rock from the beach and coastal waters of Italy during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study published January 15, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Paola Villa of the University of Colorado and colleagues.

Neanderthals are known to have used tools, but the extent to which they were able to exploit coastal resources has been questioned. In this study, Villa and colleagues explored artifacts from the Neanderthal archaeological cave site of Grotta dei Moscerini in Italy, one of two Neanderthal sites in the country with an abundance of hand-modified clamshells, dating back to around 100,000 years ago.

The authors examined 171 modified shells, most of which had been retouched to be used as scrapers. All of these shells belonged to the Mediterranean smooth clam species Callista chione. Based on the state of preservation of the shells, including shell damage and encrustation on the shells by marine organisms, the authors inferred that nearly a quarter of the shells had been collected underwater from the seafloor, as live animals, as opposed to being washed up on the beach. In the same cave sediments, the authors also found abundant pumice stones likely used as abrading tools, which apparently drifted via sea currents from erupting volcanoes in the Gulf of Naples (70km south) onto the Moscerini beach, where they were collected by Neanderthals.

These findings join a growing list of evidence that Neanderthals in Western Europe were in the practice of wading or diving into coastal waters to collect resources long before Homo sapiens brought these habits to the region. The authors also note that shell tools were abundant in sediment layers that had few stone tools, suggesting Neanderthals might have turned to making shell tools during times where more typical stone materials were scarce (though it’s also possible that clam shells were used because they have a thin and sharp cutting edge, which can be maintained through re-sharpening, unlike flint tools).

The authors add: “The cave opens on a beach. It has a large assemblage of 171 tools made on shells collected on the beach or gathered directly from the seafloor as live animals by skin diving Neanderthals. Skin diving for shells or freshwater fishing in low waters was a common activity of Neanderthals, according to data from other sites and from an anatomical study published by E. Trinkaus. Neanderthals also collected pumices erupted from volcanoes in the Gulf of Naples and transported by sea to the beach.”

After sequencing the Neanderthal genome, scientists discovered all present-day non-African individuals carry some Neanderthal ancestry in their DNA. Now, researchers present evidence of Neanderthal ancestry in African populations too, and its origin provides new insights into human history: here.

Last Neanderthal eagle necklace discovered


This 1 November 2019 video from Spain says about itself:

The last Neanderthal necklace

Found for the first time in the [Iberian] Peninsula: remains of personal ornaments with eagle talons from the Neanderthal period. These remains are older than 39,000 [years] and were found in the cave Foradada in Calafell, they were probably part of a necklace.

From the University of Barcelona in Catalonia:

Ornament with eagle talons from Neanderthal Period

November 1, 2019

Eagle talons are regarded as the first materials used to make jewellery by Neanderthals, a practice which spread around Southern Europe about 120,000 and 40,000 years ago. Now, for the first time, researchers found evidence of the ornamental uses of eagle talons in the Iberian Peninsula. An article published on the cover of the journal Science Advances talks about the findings, which took place in the site of the cave Foradada in Calafell. The research was led by Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, researcher at the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA) and member of the research team in a project of the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP) of the UB.

The interest in these findings lies in the fact that it is the most modern piece of the kind so far regarding the Neanderthal period and the first one found in the Iberian Peninsula. This circumstance widens the temporary and geographical limits that were estimated for this kind of Neanderthal ornaments. This would be “the last necklace made by the Neanderthals”, according to Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

“Neanderthals used eagle talons as symbolic elements, probably as necklace pendants, from the beginnings of the mid-Palaeolithic,” notes Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo. In particular, what researchers found in Cova Foradada are bone remains from Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti), from more than 39,000 years ago, with some marks that show these were used to take the talons so as to make pendants. The found remains correspond to the left leg of a big eagle. By the looks of the marks, and analogy regarding remains from different prehistorical sites and ethnographic documentation, researchers determined that the animal was not manipulated for consumption but for symbolic reasons. Eagle talons are the oldest ornamental elements known in Europe, even older than seashells Homo sapiens sapiens perforated in northern Africa.

The findings belong to the Châtelperronian culture, typical from the last Neanderthals that lived in Europe, and coincided with the moment when this species got in touch with Homo sapiens sapiens, from Africa -and expanding from the Middle East. Actually, Juan Ignacio Morales, researcher in the program Juan de la Cierva affiliated at SERP and signer of the article, presents this use of eagle talons as ornaments could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to modern humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe.

Cova Foradada covers the most meridional Châtelperronian culture site in Europe. The discovery involved a change in the map of the territory where the step from Middle Palaeolithic to Upper Palaeolithic took place 40,000 years ago, and where interaction between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens sapiens probably took place. Studies in Cova Foradada started in 1997. At the moment, the supervision of the excavation is led by Juan Ignacio Morales and Artur Cebrià. The archaeological study of this site is included in a SERP project funded by the Department of Culture of the Catalan Government and another funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, headed by UB professor and SERP director Josep M Fullola.

The first signer of the article in Science Advances is Antonio Rodríguez Hidalgo, from the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA). Other participants, apart from SERP members, are the researchers from Rovira i Virgili University, the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), the Natural History Museum of Paris, the University of Salamanca, the University of Calgary (Canada) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Growing up in Israel, Gili Greenbaum would give tours of local caves once inhabited by Neanderthals and wonder along with others why our distant cousins abruptly disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Now a scientist at Stanford, Greenbaum thinks he has an answer. In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, Greenbaum and his colleagues propose that complex disease transmission patterns can explain not only how modern humans were able to wipe out Neanderthals in Europe and Asia in just a few thousand years but also, perhaps more puzzling, why the end didn’t come sooner: here.

Small populations, inbreeding, and random demographic fluctuations could have been enough to cause Neanderthal extinction, according to a study published November 27, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Krist Vaesen from Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands, and colleagues. Paleoanthropologists agree that Neanderthals disappeared around 40,000 years ago — about the same time that anatomically modern humans began migrating into the Near East and Europe. However, the role modern humans played in Neanderthal extinction is disputed. In this study, the authors used population modelling to explore whether Neanderthal populations could have vanished without external factors such as competition from modern humans: here.

Neanderthals’ complex tools discovery


This 2013 video says about itself:

Neanderthal Superglue

Neanderthals devised what is thought to be the world’s first known industrial process. In this video, watch as NOVA attempts to recreate the Neanderthal technique of pitch extraction through a complex process known as dry distillation.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Neanderthal glue from the North Sea

22 October 2019

A flint tool covered with a tar-like substance has turned out to be a top scientific find. Research by a Dutch team of scientists showed the find to be a piece of birch tar that was extracted 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals using complex techniques. The tar was used as an adhesive to make it easier to hold the piece of flint. Details of the find have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Knowledge of chemistry

Dating back 50,000 years means that the artefact is older than the period when modern man inhabited Europe and that it must have been used by a Neanderthal. Chemical analysis has shown that the substance is birch tar. There are different ways – some simple, some more complicated – of extracting tar from birch bark, all requiring a basic knowledge of ‘chemistry’ to be able to carry out the necessary steps in the right order. CT scans of the tar and chemical analysis show that a complex technique was used, including heating the material in a kind of oven.

Knowledge economy

Leiden archaeologists were involved in the research. Gerrit Dusseldorp explains the discovery: ‘This find shows that Neanderthals placed a lot of emphasis on “high-tech” methods, even on the periphery of their inhabited territory. When the North Sea dried up during the last Ice Age, they turned to the knowledge economy to survive the barren environment.’

Paul Kozowyk, whose PhD research is on prehistoric adhesives, is also enthusiastic. ‘What is so interesting about this find is the combination of a large amount of birch tar on a small and simple sliver of stone. It shows that Neanderthals were not only skilled in making tar, but that they also invested in materials that are all too easily to overlook in archaeological research.’

Importance to science

This artefact is of exceptional scientific importance. In the whole of Europe there are only two known sites where tools with birch tar have been found. Gerrit Dusseldorp is delighted with the find.

The other two sites are Königsaue in Germany and Campitello in Italy. The tar remnants from Campitello are 200,000 years old, making them the oldest known examples. The tar at all three sites seems to have been produced in a similar way, indicating that Neanderthals systematically invested a lot of time and energy in making composite tools.

The evolution of complex technologies is often associated with living in large groups at a fixed location. This is by no means typical of Neanderthal communities; Neanderthals generally lived in small, mobile groups. According to the researchers, during the Ice Age Neanderthals in Europe invested in technology to reduce the ecological risks, such as food shortages.

Annemieke Verbaas conducted microscopy research on the object: ‘Even using a microscope, the artefact was too far eroded to be able to identify traces of use, so the purpose of the tool remains a mystery.’

Sand Motor

The tool was found in 2016 on the Sand Motor, a stretch of artificial sandbank off the coast of The Hague, and originated from the North Sea. During the Ice Age this was an inhabited lowland area, where Neanderthals lived in what were often harsh conditions. By applying high-quality knowledge and complex techniques for making tools, they were able to cope better with hardships such as cold and food shortages.

National Museum of Antiquities

The flint tool with traces of birch tar can be seen in the central hall of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden until Sunday 12 January 2020.

Neanderthal discovery on Naxos island, Greece


This 14 April 2018 video, in English with Greek subtitles, says about itself:

Carter’s Corner #6 – Neanderthals on Naxos!

From McMaster University in Canada:

Scientists find early humans moved through Mediterranean earlier than believed

October 16, 2019

An international research team led by scientists from McMaster University has unearthed new evidence in Greece proving that the island of Naxos was inhabited by Neanderthals and earlier humans at least 200,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years earlier than previously believed.

The findings, published today in the journal Science Advances, are based on years of excavations and challenge current thinking about human movement in the region — long thought to have been inaccessible and uninhabitable to anyone but modern humans. The new evidence is leading researchers to reconsider the routes our early ancestors took as they moved out of Africa into Europe and demonstrates their ability to adapt to new environmental challenges.

“Until recently, this part of the world was seen as irrelevant to early human studies but the results force us to completely rethink the history of the Mediterranean islands,” says Tristan Carter, an associate professor of anthropology at McMaster University and lead author on the study. He conducted the work with Dimitris Athanasoulis, head of archaeology at the Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities within the Greek Ministry of Culture.

While Stone Age hunters are known to have been living on mainland Europe for over 1 million years, the Mediterranean islands were previously believed to be settled only 9,000 years ago, by farmers, the idea being that only modern humans — Homo sapiens — were sophisticated enough to build seafaring vessels.

Scholars had believed the Aegean Sea, separating western Anatolia (modern Turkey) from continental Greece, was therefore impassable to the Neanderthals and earlier hominins, with the only obvious route in and out of Europe was across the land bridge of Thrace (southeast Balkans).

The authors of this paper suggest that the Aegean basin was in fact accessible much earlier than believed. At certain times of the Ice Age the sea was much lower exposing a land route between the continents that would have allowed early prehistoric populations to walk to Stelida, and an alternative migration route connecting Europe and Africa. Researchers believe the area would have been attractive to early humans because of its abundance of raw materials ideal for toolmaking and for its fresh water.

At the same time however, “in entering this region the pre-Neanderthal populations would have been faced with a new and challenging environment, with different animals, plants and diseases, all requiring new adaptive strategies,” says Carter.

In this paper, the team details evidence of human activity spanning almost 200,000 years at Stelida, a prehistoric quarry on the northwest coast of Naxos. Here early Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and earlier humans used the local stone (chert) to make their tools and hunting weapons, of which the team has unearthed hundreds of thousands.

Reams of scientific data collected at the site add to the ongoing debate about the importance of coastal and marine routes to human movement. While present data suggests that the Aegean could be crossed by foot over 200,000 years ago, the authors also raise the possibility that Neanderthals may also have fashioned crude seafaring boats capable of crossing short distances.

This research is part of the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project, a larger collaboration involving scholars from all over the world. They have been working at the site since 2013.

For more on the project, visit the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project’s website.

Neanderthals and art, videos


This 9 October 2019 video says about itself:

There is a huge debate around whether and to what extent Neanderthals made art. Here to help me set the record straight is Dr. Wragg Sykes, Neanderthal expert, archaeologist and author.

Sites mentioned in the interview:

Bruniquel Cave, France

Cioarei-Borosteni, Romania

Fumane Cave, Italy

This video is about the Bruniquel cave.

Neanderthal hominins, new research


This 2017 video says about itself:

Neanderthals 101 | National Geographic

Who were the Neanderthals? Do humans really share some of their DNA? Learn facts about Neanderthal man, the traits and tools of Homo neanderthalensis, and how the species fits into our evolution story.

From the University of Colorado at Boulder in the USA:

Neanderthals used resin ‘glue’ to craft their stone tools

June 26, 2019

Archaeologists working in two Italian caves have discovered some of the earliest known examples of ancient humans using an adhesive on their stone tools — an important technological advance called “hafting”.

The new study, which included CU Boulder’s Paola Villa, shows that Neanderthals living in Europe from about 55 to 40 thousand years ago traveled away from their caves to collect resin from pine trees. They then used that sticky substance to glue stone tools to handles made out of wood or bone.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that these cousins of Homo sapiens were more clever than some have made them out to be.

“We continue to find evidence that the Neanderthals were not inferior primitives but were quite capable of doing things that have traditionally only been attributed to modern humans”, said Villa, corresponding author of the new study and an adjoint curator at the CU Museum of Natural History.

That insight, she added, came from a chance discovery from Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino, a pair of caves near the beaches of what is now Italy’s west coast.

Those caves were home to Neanderthals who lived in Europe during the Middle Paleolithic period, thousands of years before Homo sapiens set foot on the continent. Archaeologists have uncovered more than 1,000 stone tools from the two sites, including pieces of flint that measured not much more than an inch or two from end to end.

In a recent study of the tools, Villa and her colleagues noticed a strange residue on just a handful of the flints — bits of what appeared to be organic material.

“Sometimes that material is just inorganic sediment, and sometimes it’s the traces of the adhesive used to keep the tool in its socket”, Villa said.

To find out, study lead author Ilaria Degano at the University of Pisa conducted a chemical analysis of 10 flints using a technique called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The tests showed that the stone tools had been coated with resin from local pine trees. In one case, that resin had also been mixed with beeswax.

Villa explained that the Italian Neanderthals didn’t just resort to their bare hands to use stone tools. In at least some cases, they also attached those tools to handles to give them better purchase as they sharpened wooden spears or performed other tasks like butchering or scraping leather.

“You need stone tools to cut branches off of trees and make them into a point,” Villa said.

The find isn’t the oldest known example of hafting by Neanderthals in Europe — two flakes discovered in the Campitello Quarry in central Italy predate it. But it does suggest that this technique was more common than previously believed.

The existence of hafting also provides more evidence that Neanderthals, like their smaller human relatives, were able to build a fire whenever they wanted one, Villa said — something that scientists have long debated. She said that pine resin dries when exposed to air. As a result, Neanderthals needed to warm it over a small fire to make an effective glue.

“This is one of several proofs that strongly indicate that Neanderthals were capable of making fire whenever they needed it,” Villa said.

In other words, enjoying the glow of a warm campfire isn’t just for Homo sapiens.

Other coauthors on the study included researchers at Paris Nanterre University in France, University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, University of Wollongong in Australia, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Istituto Italiano di Paleontologia Umana and the University of Pisa.

The research was funded by a National Science Foundation grant to Paola Villa and Sylvain Soriano.

A team of researchers have evidenced mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe dating to 45,000-40,000 years — more than 20,000 years than previously thought. This study indicated that the spear-thrower and bow-and-arrow technologies allowed modern humans to hunt more successfully than Neanderthals — giving them a competitive advantage. This discovery offered important insight to understand the reasons for the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans: here.

DNA reveals a European Neandertal lineage that lasted 80,000 years. Fossils from caves in Belgium and Germany provided DNA from these extinct hominids. By Bruce Bower, 2:00pm, June 26, 2019.

The archaeological site of ‘Ein Qashish in northern Israel was a place of repeated Neanderthal occupation and use during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study released June 26, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ravid Ekshtain of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and colleagues: here.

Abnormal bony growths in the ear canal were surprisingly common in Neanderthals, according to a study published August 14, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Erik Trinkaus of Washington University and colleagues: here.

Scientists uncover Neanderthal toddlers’ footprints in the sand made 80,000 years ago in France: here.

Neanderthal deer hunting, new research


This 2011 video is called Neanderthals Hunt Down A Horse – Planet Of The Apemen; Battle For Earth – Episode Two – BBC One.

The video depicts Neanderthals as brown-skinned. However, living in not so sunny Ice Age Europe, they had long along lost the black complexion of their African ancestors. After modern humans came to Europe from Africa later, they were dark-skinned even still shortly after the Ice Age, and, like Neanderthals earlier, gradually became light complexioned.

From the Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz in Germany:

Neanderthals practiced close-range hunting 120,000 years ago

July 2, 2018

An international team of scientists reports the oldest unambiguous hunting lesions documented in the history of humankind. The lesions were found on skeletons of two large-sized extinct fallow deer killed by Neandertals about 120,000 years ago around the shores of a small lake (Neumark-Nord 1) near present-day Halle in the eastern part of Germany. The study was led by Professor Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser of the Department of Ancient Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and was now published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The study constitutes a significant step forward in our knowledge of the Neandertal niche. It demonstrates how Neandertals obtained their prey, first and foremost in terms of their much debated hunting equipment while also shedding light on their hunting skills.

With an innovative experimental ballistic setup including state-of-the-art motion-sensor technology, the researchers were able to reproduce the specific form of one of the lesions. The results prove the use of a wooden thrusting spear that was impacted with low velocity. This suggests that Neandertals approached animals very closely and thrusted rather than threw their spears at the animals, most likely from an underhand thrusting angle. Such a confrontational way of hunting required careful planning and concealment as well as close cooperation between individual hunters.

The lake where the hunts took place was surrounded by a close canopy forest, a type of environment deemed particularly challenging for hunter-gatherers, even modern human ones. Interestingly, the excavations in the Neumark-Nord area have yielded tens of thousands of bones of large mammals, including red and fallow deer, horses, and bovids, as well as thousands of lithic artefacts from this uniquely rich Last Interglacial lake landscape, attesting to the success of Neandertal survival in forested environments.

“Although hominins most likely started hunting with weapons more than 500,000 years ago, actual evidence on how wooden spear-like objects like those found at Clacton-on-Sea in England as well as in Schöningen and Lehringen in German were used was absent prior to the identification of the Neumark-Nord hunting lesions”, stated Gaudzinski-Windheuser. “As far as spear use is concerned, we now finally have the crime scene fitting to the proverbial smoking gun.”

Cold climates contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals: here.

Fossil teeth from Italy, among the oldest human remains on the Italian Peninsula, show that Neanderthal dental features had evolved by around 450,000 years ago, according to a study published October 3, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Clément Zanolli of the Université Toulouse III Paul Sabatier in France and colleagues. These teeth also add to a growing picture of a period of complex human evolution that we are only beginning to understand: here.

An international team of scientists has completed the first 3D virtual reconstruction of the ribcage of the most complete Neanderthal skeleton unearthed to date, potentially shedding new light on how this ancient human moved and breathed. The team, which included researchers from universities in Spain, Israel, and the United States, including the University of Washington, focused on the thorax — the area of the body containing the rib cage and upper spine, which forms a cavity to house the heart and lungs. Using CT scans of fossils from an approximately 60,000-year-old male skeleton known as Kebara 2, researchers were able to create a 3D model of the chest — one that is different from the longstanding image of the barrel-chested, hunched-over “caveman.” The conclusions point to what may have been an upright individual with greater lung capacity and a straighter spine than today’s modern human: here.

Neanderthals have been imagined as the inferior cousins of modern humans, but a new study by archaeologists at UCL reveals for the first time that they produced weaponry advanced enough to kill at a distance. The study, published in Scientific Reports, examined the performance of replicas of the 300,000 year old Schöningen spears — the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records — to identify whether javelin throwers could use them to hit a target at distance: here.

This scientist watches meat rot to decipher the Neandertal diet. Nitrogen-15 levels in putrefying meat could explain high levels of the isotope in hominid fossils. By Laurel Hamers, 6:00am, January 2, 2019.

Teeth of Homo antecessor shed light on trends in Pleistocene hominin dental evolution. Early Pleistocene hominins already exhibit features that would later be characteristic of Neanderthals: here.

Using evidence found in teeth from two Neanderthals from southeastern France, researchers report the earliest evidence of lead exposure in an extinct human-like species from 250,000 years ago: here.

Skull damage suggests Neandertals led no more violent lives than humans: here.

Researchers describe two late Neanderthals with exceptionally high nitrogen isotope ratios, which would traditionally be interpreted as the signature of freshwater fish consumption. By studying the isotope ratios of single amino acids, they however demonstrated that instead of fish, the adult Neanderthal had a diet relying on large herbivore mammals and that the other Neanderthal was a breastfeeding baby whose mother was also a carnivore: here.

A new study of Bajondillo Cave (Málaga, Spain) reveals that modern humans replaced Neanderthals at this site approximately 44,000 years ago. The research shows that the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans in southern Iberia began early, rather than late, in comparison to the rest of Western Europe: here.

Oxford University scientists have played a key role in new research identifying the earliest evidence of some of the first known humans — Denisovans and Neanderthals, in Southern Siberia: here.