Neanderthal Tools Were a Match for Early Homo Sapiens'

By Eliza Strickland | August 26, 2008 5:22 pm

Neanderthal tool flake bladeArchaeologists have recreated the stone tools made by Neanderthals, and found them to be as useful and efficient as those made by the earliest Homo sapiens, who survived while the Neanderthal line died off. The new research is one of many recent studies claiming that Neanderthals weren’t just dumb brutes that were out-competed by early humans. Says lead researcher Metin Eren: “When we think of Neanderthals we need to stop thinking in terms of ‘stupid’ or ‘less advanced’ and more in terms of ‘different'” [Guardian].

Other recent studies have argued that Neanderthals hunted and communicated as well as the early Homo sapiens who arrived in Europe, where the Neanderthals already lived, about 45,000 years ago. But some archaeologists still believed that Homo sapiens had a technological advantage, because they used long stone tools called blades, as opposed to the Neanderthals’ disk-shaped flakes. In the new study, Eren’s team spent spent three years recreating blades and flakes, then measured their cutting power, durability and the amount of effort needed to produce them [Wired News]. In the end, Eren determined that the Neanderthals’ tools may have even had a slight edge over Homo sapiens tools.

Disc flakes, Eren’s team discovered, waste less rock, suffer fewer breaks and have more cutting edge for their mass compared with straight blades. “We found that with every respect the Neanderthal technology was just as efficient, if not slightly more efficient, than modern Homo sapiens blade technology,” he says. “This was a very strong indication that Neanderthals did not go extinct because of any cognitive inferiority” [New Scientist].

The study, which will be published in the Journal of Human Evolution [subscription required], found only one possible advantage to Homo sapiens’ blades: They could be easily attached to a shaft to make a spear or projectile. Eren doesn’t believe that difference is enough to explain the disappearance of the Neanderthals from Europe by about 30,000 years ago, but other archaeologists have proposed it as a contributing factor.

One such theory involves Neanderthals’ tools and abrupt climate changes in early Europe; read about it in the DISCOVER article, “Who Killed the Neanderthals?

Image: Metin Eren

Related Post: Give Neanderthals Some Credit: They Made Nice Tools

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins
  • SuzanneVesely

    The tools may be different sizes because the two groups hunted different animals. They hunted different animals because the two groups lived in different geographic regions, with the Neanderthals in higher elevations, where there are larger mammals, hence the larger flakes. Early Homo sapiens probably hunted smaller animals like wild turkey, rabbits, deer, quail, fish, using smaller, more narrow blades.

  • X

    Neanderthals did not make the tools..

    Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons were both top level predators—> Hunters.

    The Neanderthals hunted first by Smell/then by Sight

    The Cro-Magnon/Man hunted by Sound/Sight

    The Neanderthal’s nose/muzzle is enlarged. The Neanderthal brain case is of the shape and size indicative of development necessary to analyzing and acting on olfactory information. The Neanderthal had a well developed cerebrum and other structures adapted to processing smell.

    The Cro-Magnon brain is of the size and shape indicative of a Sound Hunter. Man has a well developed Cerebral Cortex necessary for analyzing and acting upon Sound sensory input.

    1) Neanderthals did not have language or music. The Neanderthals were not responsive to sound. The organization of the Neanderthal brain did not have the structures necessary to process Sound nor did Neanderthal take such delight in the meanings and patterns of Sound that Man does.

    2) The Neanderthal did not mate with Humans. Neanderthal would have identified potential mates by Smell. A human female would not have aroused a Neanderthal Male and a Neanderthal female had the strength to fend off any unwanted amorous advances by human males. It is unlikely that the Neanderthal recognized Humans either visually or by smell as bearing a resemblance to Neanderthals.

    3) Neanderthals did not bury the dead. Humans, and possibly Neanderthals, cache food, especially in caves and other areas that may be visited by other animals. Man is particularly fond of burying and covering his dinner with rocks or in shallow cairns. Burial takes many forms and the least representative of funerary practices is “caching.”

    4) Neanderthals did not make tools. The Neanderthal, being a specialized smell hunter, would have had less capacity than a Chimpanzee to carry out the complex task of tool making. Neanderthal may have used sticks or stones on a “spur of the moment” basis to strike but the “significant differences” between Man and Neanderthal would preclude the appreciation and ability to recognize and create complex patterns.

    5) Neanderthals did not make or control fire. Neanderthals were cold adapted, having a very thick and heavy fur coat. Man is not cold adapted and must of necessity make and control fire when he is out of his native, tropical range. Where there is fire, there is Man. Neanderthals did not tan hides or wear clothes. Neanderthal was a cold climate animal, not a migrant from the tropics who could only survive by the use of artificial and complex technologies such as shelters, clothes, and fire.

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  • Y

    X —

    Areas of the brain relating to olfaction are decreased in primates in general, and more so in great apes. I see no reason to postulate (without evidence) that neanderthals hunted by scent — this is pure speculation, and would be a reversal of the trend we see in the lineage that led to neanderthals and humans. The larger nose size was most likely an adaptation to a colder climate, heating the air more before it entered the lungs — this is an adaptation we see in modern humans. Africans tend to have flatter, wider noses, while Slavic peoples tend to have longer, more bulbous noses closer to those of neanderthals.

    1 — We don’t know if neanderthals had music, neither do we know which structures might have been present in the neanderthal brain. Again, your assertion is nothing but conjecture. However, they did have a descended larynx, indicated by the find of a neanderthal hyoid bone in 1938, I believe, which is both necessary to speech and leaves the throat vulnerable to attack: it is unlikely that this structure would be selected for if the neanderthals did not have speech. Hence they probably did have some linguistic ability.

    2 — You say neanderthals identified mates by smell. This is guesswork based on your previous misunderstanding concerning the neanderthal nasal structure. So far the matter of whether our two species interbred is still undecided, but attempting to work out the details of neanderthal courtship (let alone their brain structure) based on reasoning so naive as “neanderthals had big noses, therefore olfaction must have been their dominant sense” is absurd.

    3 — I’m not entirely sure what you mean here. Are you saying that burying the dead is a way of protecting food from scavengers, thus implying that both ancient humans and neanderthals were cannibals? Although there are signs that cannibalism was practice by both species, there is also evidence that skeletons were defleshed BEFORE burial (whether the flesh was then eaten is a matter of debate), indicating that the burial was not to prevent the flesh from being scavenged.

    4 and 5 — Both tools and evidence of fire use have been found in sites which predate homo sapiens by millions of years. Homo habilis, for example, is thought to have been the first hominid species to create stone tools. If you’re claiming that neanderthals were incapable of creating tools (again, something which you have only based, without explaining the connection, on your unsupported assumption that the neanderthal sensory sphere was dominated by olfaction), then how do you explain tools which predate H. sapiens? Same goes for fire.

  • bystander

    Take that X. Thanks Y.

  • Larry

    lol homo

  • Z

    X is clearly a creationist who wants to believe that Neanderthals were simply animals and not to be considered human, which is why he asserts that they couldn’t make tools, speak, make music, breed with humans, or bury their dead. Thus he is a racist, and only by Crichtonesque restoration of our oppressed Neanderthal race to their rightful positions of power and respect can our dream be fulfilled: the day when a man is judged, not by the thickness of his fur, but by the sharpness of his tool.

  • Tom

    It seems that the mater of extinction of the Neanderthal population could come down to the amount of intelligence of the species. For adaptation depends upon intelligence.
    From what has been discovered it looks as if Neanderthal was at least as intelligent as Cro-Magnon(our excepted ancestors ).
    Given the speed at which we can adapt if required and that eminent starvation would be a strong motivator, then by assuming that Neanderthal did not adapt. We are either forced to accept that.
    1.They were not as intelligent as assumed which seems unlikely given the size of their brain and the complexity of there society, mirroring in many ways that of the Cro-Magnon of the same period.
    2. They refused to change their prey items, and hunting practices. or their weapons, which researcher claim led to their extinction.
    I submit that if such circumstances faced us, we would adapt very rapidly in fact within hours or at most days.
    History gives us an analog as we have throughout recorded watched arms races, as well as other survival strategies.
    We know we must adapt or die. These individuals must have adapted repeatedly over their long existence ( much longer than we have to this point existed).
    Our studies of humans reaction when coming into contact with other societies is marked with love and war.
    Not only do we kill those who are different from us but we also interbreeding with them.
    In summery It seems that total extinction because of the inability to adapt or destruction of preferred habitat deserves a fresh look.
    Well entrenched notions are difficult to abandon. But isn’t that what science is all about?

  • http://midwesterndesigns.com Mary

    X- External nasal structure is probably less important to “smell” as the amount of brain devoted to analyzing it.
    Y-Inteligence has little to do with species survival- look at the roach.

  • Wilmer

    From its start in the 1800s, the whole discussion on the Neanderthals is based on the view of mans evolution. If you don´t believe in evolution, but has some form of creationist look on history of mankind, you must see the Neanderthals as apes. The Neanderthals has become the famous “missing link” between apes and man – even if they were so much more advanced than what would represent a true missing link. When looking at all the evidence of Neanderthal culture, their tools, their fires, their hunting habits, their burying of their deads, it´s obvious that they were quite similar to what came after them. The question is if the whole debate has exaggerated the differences between the two “species”. If we see the Neanderthals as developed some 100 000 years ago, living as a more robust Ice age hunter in Europe, and other less robust humans living in warmer climate at the same time, the whole idea of two different species becomes more difficult to accept. Sure; the Neanderthals disappeared, but not because they were primitive or less human, but because the need for being that robust became less important for survival. Still some of us, like the Australian aboriginals, are more robust and “Neanderthal-looking”, but they are not to be seen as “primitive”. What happened is rather that the evolutionary force to be robust disappeared in a better climate and with better tools and a more civilised culture. The impact of more gracile humans from the South is also an important explanation for what has happened, and should not be forgotten. The “difference”, though, should be seen as coming with time: the Neanderthals were, first and foremost, EARLIER human beings, even if more robust tribes were living in Europe for quite long.

  • Tor

    Disease can wipe out a group of modern people today that have never had exposure to it till some outsider brings it into their area. How many diseases were being carried by Cro-Magnon? Diseases they had built up immunity to but that laid waste to Neanderthal? Look at history and how many times a group of people have been decimated by someone carrying disease into their community.

  • sbd

    I’m not convinced by the evidence that there was no inter-breeding between Neanderthal & Cro-Magnon human beings. Such interbreeding, if it abruptly became an accepted practice for one or many survival reasons, could explain the Neanderthal disappearance into the larger Cro-Magnon gene pool.

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  • SPM

    I suspect the reason why Homo Sapiens made smaller straight edge tools was because they were lighter and more portable. Homo Sapiens were nomadic hunters who tracked herds of animals, while Neanderthals stayed put and ambushed herds of animals on migration routes. Saving weight would therefore be a huge advantage to Homo Sapiens even at the expense of slightly reduced functionality because it would allow them to carry larger numbers of tools and hunting implements with them to cover for breakages.

    The DNA evidence so far indicates no human DNA in Neanderthal DNA, but that humans living outside Africa have a small number of genes in common with Neanderthals, and these are not restricted to Europeans. This seems to indicate that the genes were transferred in the middle east, at the beginning of human migration out of Africa, perhaps by a human population with a small scale contact with Neanderthal ancestors over a long period since the beginning of the divergence of humans from Neanderthals at the boundary between the two species (in Israel). The lack of recently evolved human DNA in Neanderthal DNA would indicate that either humans and Neanderthals could not interbreed, or if they did, their offspring were sterile. I am convinced that if Neanderthals could have interbred they would have, and that we would have seen hybridization of the two species in Europe, with a high proportion of Neanderthal DNA in Europe in particular, rather than the very minimal levels spread out to all non-African humans that we see.

  • http://daybrown.org Day Brown

    The female pelvis cracks open to facilitate birth. But the Neanderthal bones were too robust, so their females could not birth the hybrid. Hybridization will have many fertile males but few females because there are too many ways for the changes to result in infertility. Which is why Sykes, “The Seven Daughters of Eve” finds only 7 indigenous mtDNA lines in Europe while there are scores, even 140 in Africa, and everywhere else.

  • http://Cfggxgdgigg.com Jb

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  • Piers

    My gut feeling is that Neanderthals had fur similar to gorillas. I don’t believe the Hollywood recreations that show them dressed in animal skins. It is a shame that when bones are discovered, the additional material is cleaned off as that could contain evidence of the fur. It should be kept for the day when we have scientific equipment to properly analyse such material. Modern humans were naked because we probably evolved near the coast where food was plentiful and being naked was an advantage when swimming and drying off. The obvious place is in S E Asia where the climate is perfect for no clothes and there are plenty of islands, fresh water and food. The present evidence is that modern humans came from Africa but I wouldn’t be surprised if further evidence is discovered in the future that shows we developed into what we look like now by spending 100,000 years or so in southern India, Indonesia etc. When children want to go for a holiday today, they all want to go to the beach. Is that just coincidence? No child says, “Please Dad, can we go to the savannah?”

  • Alex the digga

    I have a large collection flint tools of Neanderthal and early human its obvious that they had skill, neanderthals semms to be more leaning towards awls and scrapers and later on finer blades (spear/knife shaped blades) possibly copying there competitors for game, I have no doubt they did adapt to the changes in game,temp etc as the tools did. On they fur side of things i know guys that are so hairy they look like a gorrila, but seriously think wooly rhino, mammoth, mastadon etc cold climate adapted animals they developed side by side with neanderthals so you would expect them to have eccess body hair but being hairy does not make them less intelligent and im sure they would have wore some type of clothing with all the scrapers and awls they made.
    Music mmmm…didn’t someone excavate a neandy flute?
    The extinction of Neanderthals is probably from a multitude of reasons changing climate,dwindling resources disease (similar to native americians and other aboriginal peoples) and conflict, I suspect conflict as we know they where pushed to the periferals of europe, if early cromagon can kill his own kind i suspect they would kill Neanderthal on site or at least force them out of their hunting ranges. “CAN YOU DIG IT”

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