We often tend to think of Neanderthals as brutish and messy cavemen who lumbered from one meal to the next. However, the new research found that Neanderthals butchered animals, made tools and gathered round the fire in different parts of their caves. (Agencies)
"There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organised use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans," said Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver and lead author of the study.
"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," Riel-Salvatore said.
The findings, published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology, are based on excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in northwest Italy, where both Neanderthals and later early humans lived.
Scientists found that Neanderthals divided the cave into different areas for different activities. The top level was used as a task site - likely a hunting stand - where they could kill and prepare game. The middle level was a long-term base camp and the bottom level was a shorter term residential base camp.
Riel-Salvatore and his team found a high frequency of animal remains in the rear of the top level, indicating that the area was likely used for butchering game. They also found evidence of ochre use in the back of the shelter.
"We found some ochre throughout the sequence but we are not sure what it was used for. Neanderthals could have used it for tanning hides, for gluing, as an antiseptic or even for symbolic purposes – we really can't tell at this point," Riel-Salvatore said.
In the middle level, which has the densest traces of human occupation, artifacts were distributed differently. Animal bones were concentrated at the front rather than the rear of the cave. This was also the case with stone tools.
A hearth was in back of the cave about half a meter to a meter from the wall. It would have allowed warmth from the fire to circulate among the living area.
"When you make stone tools there is a lot of debris that you don't want in high traffic areas or you risk injuring yourself. There are clearly fewer stone artifacts in the back of the shelter near the hearth," Riel-Salvatore said.
More stone artifacts were found immediately inside the shelter's mouth, suggesting tool production may have occurred inside the part of the site where sunlight was available.
The discoveries are the latest in continuing research by Riel-Salvatore showing that Neanderthals were far more advanced than originally thought.
"This is ongoing work, but the big picture in this study is that we have one more example that Neanderthals used some kind of logic for organizing their living sites," Riel-Salvatore said.
We often tend to think of Neanderthals as brutish and messy cavemen who lumbered from one meal to the next. However, the new research found that Neanderthals butchered animals, made tools and gathered round the fire in different parts of their caves.