By DAMIEN GAYLE
PUBLISHED: 12:05 EST, 30 October 2012 | UPDATED: 12:05 EST, 30 October 2012
- Findings could revolutionise how we see our extinct evolutionary cousins
- Cultural exchange between humans and Neanderthals may have occurred
Cleverer than we thought? A new study suggests that Neanderthals may have learned how to make certain tools and jewellery from humans
Neanderthals learned how to make jewellery and sophisticated tools from the ancestors of modern humans, a study published today suggests.
New high precision radiocarbon dating shows that a cultural exchange may have taken place between modern humans and Neanderthals in France and Spain more than 40,000 years ago.
The findings have important implications for our understanding of our long-extinct sister species. If Neanderthals made the ornaments, they must have been capable of symbolic behaviour thought to be unique to man.
Artefacts discovered strewn among the remains of Neanderthals in the Grotte du Renne cave in central France and several other locations have long presented anthropologists with a puzzle.
Belonging to what archaeologists term the Châtelperronian culture, a transitional industry from south-west France and northern Spain, it has been hotly debated whether they were made by Neanderthals or humans.
The artefacts bear all the hallmarks of production by humans, but their discovery among Neanderthal remains has suggested that they were the work of our rugged evolutionary cousins.
Previous research had suggested that the artefacts were in fact produced by human ancestors before settling into deeper layers of cave strata until they sat among the earlier remains of Neanderthals.
But now the findings of an international team from the Max Planck Institute, Germany, suggest that the tools and body ornaments were indeed produced by Neanderthals – but only after humans arrived in the area.
The so-called ‘transitional industries’ like the Châtelperronian culture are a key for understanding the replacement process of Neanderthals by modern humans in western Eurasia at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago.
Ancient: Châtelperronian Neanderthal body ornaments from the Grotte du Renne cave
The Max Planck Institute team, led by Jean-Jacques Hublin, selected 40 well-preserved bone samples from the Grotte du Renne, primarily from those areas that contained Châtelperronian body ornaments or Neanderthal remains but also from older and younger layers.
In addition, a Neanderthal tibia bone from Saint Césaire was analysed.
The researchers extracted collagen from the samples and dated the bones by taking isotopic measurements. Using an accelerator mass spectrometer the researchers obtained very high precision 14C dates.
‘In Leipzig, scientists use the most advanced techniques for high precision radiocarbon (14C) dating of bones,’ said Dr Hublin.
At the Grotte du Renne, the large series of dates obtained prove that no major layer admixture occurred in the site.
More ornaments from Grotte du Renne: A new study suggests they may have been made by Neanderthals
The Châtelperronian phase is dated to between 44,500 and 41,000 years ago and theChâtelperronian Neanderthal skeleton of Saint-Césaire from the end of this time period ca. 41,500 years ago.
This, the researchers say, confirms that Neanderthal populations are directly responsible for the production of Châtelperronian assemblages in central France, including the body ornaments of Arcy.
‘These ages are significant for another reason as well, namely because modern humans replaced the last known European Neanderthals starting around 50,000 years ago and were already present in Southern France and in Germany when Neanderthals produced the CP (Châtelperronian),’ said Dr Hublin.
‘Given the dating results, we believe that Neanderthals made sophisticated bone tools and body ornaments only after modern humans introduced these new behaviours in Western Europe. Most likely, some level of cultural diffusion occurred from one group to the other more than 40,000 years ago.’