Distinct Neanderthal Cultures Revealed in Handaxe Designs
In the past, scientists believed that Neanderthals were primitive beings, unable to compete with our human forebears. Now, there's new evidence that Neanderthals were far more advanced than anyone thought. Researchers have uncovered new relics that reveal that two cultural traditions existed among Neanderthals living in what is now northern Europe between 115,000 and 35,000 years ago.
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The relics come in the form of stone tools--about 1,300 of them coming from 80 Neanderthal sites in five European countries. These countries included France, Germany, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands. After examining these tools, the researchers found that two separate handaxe traditions or designs existed--one in a region now spanning southwestern France and Britain and the other in Germany and further to the east. They also found an area covering modern day Belgium and the Netherlands that demonstrates a transition between the two.
"In Germany and France there appears to be two separate handaxe traditions, with clear boundaries, indicating complete separate, independent developments," said Karen Ruebens, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The transition zone in Belgium and Northern France indicates contact between the different groups of Neanderthals, which is generally difficult to identify but has been much talked about, especially in relation to later contacts with groups of modern humans. This area can be seen as a melting pot of ideas where mobile groups of Neanderthals, both from the eastern and western tradition, would pass by--influencing each other's designs and leaving behind a more varied record of bifacial tools."
So what did these handaxes look like? The Neanderthals in the western region made ones that were symmetrical, triangular and heart-shaped. In the eastern region, Neanderthals created asymmetrically shaped bifacial knives.
"Distinct ways of making a handaxe were passed on from generation to generation and for long enough to become visible in the archaeological record," said Reubens. "This indicates a strong mechanism of social learning between these two groups and says something about the stability and connectivity of Neanderthal populations."
The findings reveal that these ancient people were far more advanced than we once believed. They learned from one another and passed down information through generations. In addition, the study reveals that time, effort and tradition were involved in making these stone tools.
The findings are published in the Journal of Human Evolution.