Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Neandertal News Volume 49 Number 5, September/October 1996
by Mark Berkowitz

Identification of a 34,000-year-old Neandertal temporal bone found at Arcy-sur-Cure, France, is providing new insight into the relationship between the last Neandertals and contemporary Homo sapiens. Found with the bone were stone tools of the type known as Châtelperronian, after a cave site in France. These tools display a mixture of Neandertal and more advanced technologies brought to Europe by modern humans. Jean-Jacques Hublin and researchers from the Musée de l'Homme, Paris, suggest that Neandertals made the Châtelperronian tools, perhaps having learned and adopted some tool-making techniques from contemporary H. sapiens. Personal ornaments found at Arcy-sur-Cure, including pierced animal teeth and ivory rings, are so similar to those from contemporary H. sapiens sites that Hublin suspects Neandertals obtained them through trade.

Whatever social contact may have occurred, Hublin and Fred Spoor of University College London conclude that Neandertals and early modern humans did not interbreed. Computerized- tomography scans of nine Neandertal temporal bones, which surround the inner ear, revealed small semicircular canals and a distinctive inner ear shape compared to modern humans. "The differences are comparable to those separating ape species," they said.

A discovery by François Rouzaud of the French archaeological service suggests Neandertals were more sophisticated in their use of fire than previously believed. A burnt bear bone found deep in a cave at Bruniquel in southern France has been dated to at least 47,600 years ago, before modern humans reached western Europe. It proves Neandertals were able to use fire for illumination. Earlier evidence showed only that they used fire in simple hearths. The bone came from a 13- by 16-foot structure made of stalactite and stalagmite fragments. Built by Neandertals, its purpose is unknown.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America