Neanderthals were not 'stupid,' says new research
Thursday, 28 August 2008

AFP, LONDON - Neanderthals were not as stupid as they have been portrayed, according to new research Tuesday showing their stone tools were as good as those made by the early ancestors of modern humans, Homo sapiens.

The findings by a team of scientists at British and US universities challenge the assumption that the ancestors of people living today drove Neanderthals into extinction by producing better tools.
The research could lead to a fresh search for explanations about why Neanderthals vanished from Europe around 28,000 years ago, after living alongside modern humans for some 10,000 years.
Experimental archaeologist Metin Eren, from the University of Exeter in southwest England, said: "Our research disputes a major pillar holding up the long-held assumption that Homo sapiens were more advanced than Neanderthals.
"It is time for archaeologists to start searching for other reasons why Neanderthals became extinct while our ancestors survived.
"Technologically speaking, there is no clear advantage of one tool over the other. When we think of Neanderthals, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' and more in terms of 'different,'" Eren said.
The team from the University of Exeter, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas State University and the Think Computer Corporation, spent three years producing stone tools.
They recreated stone tools known as 'flakes,' which were wider tools originally used by both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, and 'blades,' a narrower stone tool later adopted by Homo sapiens.
To test whether the Homo sapiens' tools were superior, the team analysed the data to compare the number of tools produced, how much cutting-edge was created, the amount of raw material required and the durability of the tools.
They found there was no statistical difference between the efficiency of the two technologies and in some respects the flakes favoured by Neanderthals did the job better than the blades adopted by Homo sapiens.
The research, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, begs the question of why Homo sapiens switched from the type of tool technology used by the Neanderthals to something different but no more efficient.
The switch to a more streamlined technology during the time that Homo sapiens began colonising Europe may have given the toolmakers a shared identity which in turn fostered social cohesion, Eren said.
"Colonising a continent isn't easy. Colonising a continent during the Ice Age is even harder. So, for early Homo sapiens colonising Ice Age Europe, a new shared and flashy-looking technology might serve as one form of social glue by which larger social networks were bonded," he said.
"Thus, during hard times these larger social networks might act like a type of life insurance, ensuring exchange and trade among members of the same team."
Other studies have claimed that Neanderthals may have died out because they struggled with changing conditions brought by increasingly cold temperatures, failing to adapt their hunting methods when species such as mammoth and bison fled south and a once-forested Europe changed into a sparsely vegetated landscape during the last Ice Age.

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