Thursday, June 14, 2007

Neanderthal innovation is the subject of a New Scientist article this week (issue 2608 of New Scientist magazine, 13 June 2007, page 12), which reports on research by Terry Hopkinson recently published in Antiquity (Antiquity, vol 81, p 294).

NEANDERTHALS as innovators? That the concept seems amusing goes to show how our sister species has become the butt of our jokes. Yet in the Middle Palaeolithic, some 300,000 years ago, innovation is what the Neanderthals were up to.

This period is usually regarded as undramatic in cultural and evolutionary terms, with little in the way of technological or cognitive development. Palaeoanthropologists get more excited about the changes in tools found later, as the Middle Palaeolithic gave way to the Upper, and as modern humans replaced Neanderthals, some 40,000 years ago.

Terry Hopkinson of the University of Leicester, UK, has now challenged this view, showing that Neanderthals were far from behaviourally static. They incorporated different forms of tool construction into a single technique, and learned to cope with the ecological challenges posed by habitats in eastern Europe.

Hopkinson concludes

With this evidence of innovation it becomes difficult to exclude Neanderthals from the concept of humanity

There's an eclectic mix of papers presented in Antiquity this month, with everything from evidence of early wild rice cultivation in China to a look at warfare in the Linearbankeramik of central and western Germany. Have a look at the current issue's web page for the full contents and abstracts.