RSS

The Bulletin

Home organization basics from Neanderthal caves

Posting in Science
Homo neanderthalensis lived from 200,000 to about 30,000 years ago in Europe and parts of Asia. In the early 1900s, they were depicted as primitive, brutish cavemen (what Stallone’s character must have seemed to the future residents of San Angeles). Recent work has gone into rehabilitating that image. 

Now, excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in northwest Italy, suggest that Neanderthals organized their homes with thoughtful planning like we do.

They butchered animals, made tools, and gathered around the fire in separate parts of their living and work spaces. (Okay, so not exactly like most of us do.)

“There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans,” lead author Julien Riel-Salvatore from the University of Colorado Denver said in a news release. “But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space.”

The site was inhabited by Neanderthals as well as early humans for thousands of years. The team found evidence that in the Neanderthal levels, the cave was divided into different areas for different activities. According to release
  1. The top level was used as a task site -- likely a hunting stand -- where they could kill and prepare game. There were lots of animal remains, as well as evidence of ochre use (possibly for tanning hides) in the back. 
  2. The middle level was a long-term base camp with the densest traces of human occupation. Artifacts here were distributed differently. At the back of the cave there was a hearth about half a meter to a meter from the wall -- allowing warmth to circulate among the living area. Animal bones and stone tools were concentrated outside (“beyond the dripline”) and at the front cave, rather than the rear -- keeping jagged debris out of the high traffic and sleeping areas.
  3. And the bottom level was a shorter term residential base camp. More stone artifacts were found just inside the shelter, suggesting tool production took place where sunlight was available.
The work was published in Canadian Journal of Archaeology


Image: University Communications

— By on December 6, 2013, 1:54 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure