October 5, 2010
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Scientists are broadly rethinking the nature, skills and demise of the Neanderthals of Europe and Asia, steadily finding more ways that they were substantially like us and quite different from the limited, unchanging and ultimately doomed inferiors most commonly described in the past.
The latest revision involves Neanderthals who lived in southern Italy from about 42,000 to 35,000 years ago, a group that had to face fast-changing climate conditions that required them to adapt.
And that, says anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore, is precisely what they did: fashioning new hunting tools, targeting more-elusive prey and even wearing identifying ornaments and body painting. . .
Research debunking the position that Neanderthals were "cognitively inferior" comes from Daniel Adler of the University of Connecticut and Metin Eren of Southern Methodist University.
In 2006, Adler described evidence that Neanderthals hunted just as well as Homo sapiens, even if their weapons were less sophisticated.
In 2007, Eren replicated the making of Neanderthal disc-shaped tools, or "flakes," and found they were in some ways more efficient than Homo sapiens' blade-based tools. Both researchers said that while the Neanderthals did not make the transition to more advanced tools - which generations of researchers saw as proof of Homo sapiens' superiority - they were nonetheless well adapted to their environment.
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