A new study has shed some much-needed light on the everyday lives of Neanderthals, stating that these early humans often partook in collective hunting involving sophisticated strategies for capturing prey. Through a thorough analysis of prehistoric animal remains from Germany, the researchers have thus managed to debunk the long-held belief that Neanderthals were uncivilized brutes.
Published recently in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal, the study entailed the examination of “hunting lesions” or bruises on the bones of two deer that were nearly 120,000 years old. According to the researchers, the injuries were inflicted on the animals using weapons that were specifically designed to stalk and capture prey.
Microscopic imaging of the bones and ballistics experiments recreating the impact of the blows, in turn, revealed that at least one of these injuries had been delivered using a wooden spear at a relatively low speed. Speaking about the findings, Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, a researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz of Germany, said –
This suggests that Neanderthals approached animals very closely and thrust, not threw, their spears at the animals, most likely from an underhand angle. Such a confrontational way of hunting required careful planning and concealment, and close cooperation between individual hunters.
Neanderthals More Intelligent Than Previously Thought
Existing 430,000 to 38,000 years ago, Neanderthals first appeared in Europe, before expanding to central and southwest Asia. Historians believe that they diverged from modern humans somewhere between 550,000 to 765,000 years ago. Fossils collected from different parts of Europe point to Neanderthals being stronger, more thickset with shorter legs and a bigger torso, compared to modern humans.
Back in 2010, genome sequencing of Neanderthals had established that there were occurrences of interbreeding between the Neanderthals and humans. In terms of date, such interbreeding scenarios were believed to have occurred around 47,000-65,000 years ago, when the human population moved out of Africa.
However, a more recent study (supported by DNA analysis) talked about the probability that such interbreeding scenarios between Neanderthals and humans occurred much earlier, around 100,000 years ago. According to the researchers, a group of humans possibly already traveled to other lands beyond Africa prior to the ancestors of present-day non-Africans.
As a result of this interbreeding, modern Europeans and Asians have been found to possess around two percent of Neanderthal DNA. Despite their close evolutionary ties with humans, Neanderthals were largely considered to be primitive, lacking symbolic culture which essentially is the ability to learn and transmit behavioral traditions from one generation to the next.
However, according to more recent studies, these early humans were significantly more intelligent than previously thought. For instance, a research conducted by the University of York in March claimed that Neanderthals developed a scope of highly effective (albeit uncalculated) healthcare based on both compassion and knowledge.
Simply put, they acted out of their honest and positive nature to care for their near ones, regardless of the latter’s health situation and injuries – an ambit which the researchers described as “compassionate and knowledgeable response to injury and illness.”
Archaeological evidence also suggests that they practiced ritualistic burial, crafted tools for hunting and even created animal frescos on cave walls dating as far back as 64,000 years ago.
Earliest Concrete Evidence Of Weapons Being Used For Hunting
According to historians, some of the early human species started hunting with weapons over 500,000 years ago. Although wooden staves dating from around 300,000 to 400,000 years ago have been found in England and Germany, up until now, archaeologists did not have any physical evidence of how these weapons were actually used.
The latest findings, as per the team, serve as the earliest concrete evidence that such weapons were used for hunting by archaic humans like Neanderthals. Speaking on the matter, Gaudzinski-Windheuser stated –
As far as spear use is concerned, We now finally have the ‘crime scene’ fitting to the proverbial ‘smoking gun’.
The deer bones studied as part of the project were originally unearthed some 20 years ago. Thanks to advanced technologies, researchers have now been able to uncover valuable insights into the hunting practices of these archaic humans. Because the bruises were quite pronounced, “the forensic style replication and analysis in this paper possible,” said UCL researcher Annemieke Milks. She added –
The ballistics work is experimental archaeology at its best.
Source/Image Credits: Phys.org