Evolution breakthrough after study finds Neanderthals 'more human' than previously thought

Neanderthals. They are the brutish, ogre-like beings we occasionally see in science fiction, historical films, and documentaries.

It is hard to imagine a time when modern humans shared the planet with them, and even harder to draw any concrete similarities.

Yet, a new study has done just that, uncovering several similarities shared between the behaviour of Homo sapiens and its closest extinct relative.

Published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, a team of researchers led by Amélie Vallerand of the University of Montreal’s Department of Anthropology explored some of the close resemblances in behaviour within lived spaces.

Though scientists previously believed the behaviour of Neanderthals far more primitive than Homo sapiens, Ms Vallerand’s analysis shows that the two were closely intertwined.

Neanderthals were a form of human species that lived in Eurasia until around 40,000 years ago when they disappeared.

In some parts of the world, they co-existed with modern humans and even interbred with them, leaving much of the world’s population with 1 to 4% Neanderthal DNA.

Neanderthals were believed to have less complex behaviour patterns than Homo sapiens but a growing body of evidence, including that studied by Ms Vallerand and her team, shows that aspects of Neanderthal behaviour were comparable in complexity and diversity to prehistoric Homo sapiens.

The study’s authors write: “Because it is often assumed that fundamental behavioural differences distinguish Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, the ability to structure space within the sites they occupied into distinct activity areas is often invoked as a key distinctive trait of our species.

“However, this behaviour has never been assessed for both groups at a single site, hindering direct comparisons to date.

The team analysed artefacts and features found at the Riparo Bombrini site in northwestern Italy. It is a place where a collapsed rock shelter once served Neanderthals and later Homo sapiens.

Mapping the various stone tools, animal bones, ocher, and marine shells across the site, the researchers were able to identify clusters of the relics and shed light on each species’ behaviour.

Of their findings, perhaps the most interesting is the conclusion that both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens exhibited a structured use of the space.

Each organised the area they lived into separate zones of activity which were used for different activities.

It suggests that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens shared similar cognitive capacities for spatial organisation.

“Like Homo sapiens, Neanderthals organized their living space in a structured way, according to the different tasks that took place there and to their needs,” Ms Vallerand said in a press release.

“So this is yet another study indicating that Neanderthals were more ‘human’ than is generally assumed.”


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.