New research reveals that Neanderthals, who first appeared around 230,000 to 300,000 years ago, were not dumb, but had the technical and intellectual skills to put them on an equal basis with modern humans. They were capable of making sophisticated tools using a kind of prehistoric superglue that had to be made at a precise temperature.
?This finding demonstrates that the Neanderthals must have possessed a high degree of technical and manual abilities, comparable to those of modern Homo sapiens,? says Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. ?It would further show that the behavior gap between us and Neanderthals is narrower than we thought. Some may say there isn?t a gap.? The new finding means that Neanderthals did not disappear because they were inferior to our ancestors.
The research centers on a new analysis of two samples of blackish-brown pitch discovered in a lignite open-mining pit in the foothills of the Harz mountains in Germany. Their geological location suggests they are more than 80,000 years old.One of the pitch pieces bears the print of a finger and there are also imprints of a flint stone tool and wood, suggesting that the pitch acted as glue, to attach a wooden shaft to a flint stone blade.
A team of scientists, led by Professor Dietrich Mania of Freidrich-Schiller University in Jena, wanted to find out the chemical composition of the pitch, its biological origins, and the amount of skill and ability needed to make it. It was originally thought that the pitch was made from melted pine resin. But although such resins can work as putty, they are not strong enough to work as glue.
When the researchers broke down the samples, they found that they consisted of birch pitch, which is far more difficult to make. Birch pitches can be produced only at temperatures of 570-750 degrees F. At lower temperatures, no tar is produced, while higher temperatures destroy any tar that has formed.
?Today, comparable pitches can easily be produced with modern technical methods, like airtight laboratory flasks and temperature control facilities,? say the researchers. ?However, any attempt at simulating the conditions of the Neanderthal period and at producing these birch pitches without any of these modern facilities will soon be met with many difficulties. This implies that the Neanderthals did not come across these pitches by accident but must have produced them with intent. Conscious action is, however, always a clear sign of considerable technical capabilities. The pitch finds demonstrate that the Neanderthals must have possessed a high degree of technical and manual abilities, comparable to those of modern Homo sapiens.?
Stringer says, ?They are not the shambling half-wits they were sometimes portrayed as. It is potentially a very important find. It implies quite high technical ability. They also buried their dead. All this does make it more of a problem to explain why we are here and not them.?
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