Ancient Neanderthals Organized Their Homes Like Modern Humans

First Posted: Dec 03, 2013 07:23 AM EST

As scientists delve into the ancient past of Neanderthals, they're finding more and more similarities between them and humans. Now, they've discovered that Neanderthals once organized their living spaces in ways that would be familiar to modern humans.

"There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans," said Julien Riel-Salvatore, one of the researchers, 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 spaces."

The researchers first made this discovering after excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in northwest Italy. There, Neanderthals and then later humans lived for thousands of years. The site itself comprises three levels assigned to Neanderthals, and it turns out that the ancient hominids divided the cave into different areas for different activities--think of it like rooms in a house. 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.

In the middle level, which had the densest traces of human occupation, artifacts were distributed differently. Animal bones and stone tools were concentrated in the front rather than the rear of the cave. In addition, there was a hearth in the back of the cave about half a meter to a meter from the wall. This would have allowed warmth from the fire to circulate among the living area.

"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," said Riel-Salvatore in a news release. "This is still more evidence that they were more sophisticated than many have given them credit for. If we are going to identify modern human behavior on the basis of organized spatial patterns, then you have to extend it to Neanderthals as well."

The findings are published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology.

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