Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Did Neanderthals make jewellery after all?

Date:
November 1, 2010
Source:
University of Oxford
Summary:
The theory that later Neanderthals might have been sufficiently advanced to fashion jewelery and tools similar to those of incoming modern humans has suffered a setback. A new radiocarbon dating study has found that an archaeological site that uniquely links Neanderthal remains to sophisticated tools and jewelery may be partially mixed.

Remains of some of the personal ornaments, rings, awls, pierced animal teeth and ivory pendants that have been excavated from the Châtelperronian levels at the site.
Credit: M. Vanhaeren

The theory that later Neanderthals might have been sufficiently advanced to fashion jewellery and tools similar to those of incoming modern humans has suffered a setback. A new radiocarbon dating study, led by Oxford University, has found that an archaeological site that uniquely links Neanderthal remains to sophisticated tools and jewellery may be partially mixed.

The study, published in the early online version of the journal PNAS, suggests that the position of key finds in the archaeological layers of the Grotte du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure in France may not be trustworthy. The research team, from the UK and France, dated material from the site and discovered their radiocarbon ages were extremely variable and did not correspond with the expected sequence indicated by the excavated archaeological layers. The Grotte du Renne has 15 archaeological layers, covering a depth of about four metres spanning periods from the Mousterian to the Gravettian periods.

For decades scholars have debated the extent of cognitive and behavioural development in Neanderthals before they disappeared from Europe about 30,000 years ago. Neanderthals are the most recent, extinct modern human relative. We have a common ancestor from around 700,000-800,000 years ago and recent work in decoding the Neanderthal genome shows we share between one to four per cent of their DNA.

One pivotal period is around 35,000-40,000 years ago when the earliest modern humans dispersed into Western Europe. Finds made in the 1950s and 1960s at the Grotte du Renne site have provided persuasive evidence to suggest either that Neanderthals developed a more modern type of behaviour before modern human dispersal, developing their own complex ornaments and tools, or that they mimicked the behaviour of the modern humans that they encountered after their arrival. Over the years the site has yielded 29 Neanderthal teeth and a piece of ear bone from a Neanderthal skull in the same archaeological levels as rings made of ivory, awls, bone points, pierced animal teeth, shell and ivory pendants. The finds were recovered from three archaeological levels (VII, IX, X) associated with the Châtelperronian industry, a tool culture thought to have evolved from the earlier Neanderthal, Mousterian industry.

For this study, researchers from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit analysed 59 remains of cut-marked bones, horse teeth smashed by humans, awls, ornaments fashioned from animal teeth and mammoth ivory tusks from six key archaeological levels of the site. They included the three Châtelperronian levels (VIII, IX and X) and the Aurignacian level with material derived from modern humans in level VII. Thirty-one new radiocarbon dates were obtained: the oldest material in the Aurignacian level was dated at around 35,000 years ago, but when the researchers dated materials from the lower Châtelperronian levels they discovered many of the ages were hugely variable, with some much younger and several at about the same age as dates from the Aurignacian level. The most serious chronological problems were in the oldest part of the Châtelperronian layer (X) where more than a third of the radiocarbon ages were outside the ranges expected.

Lead author Dr Thomas Higham, Deputy Director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, said: 'Our results confirm that material has moved up and down and is out of sequence in the Châtelperronian levels. We think that there has probably been some physical disturbance which has disrupted the proper sequence of the layers. This means that any chronological interpretation from this site should be viewed with extreme caution.

'Our study raises questions about the link between Neanderthals and the tools and jewellery found in the Châtelperronian levels. This site is one of only two in the French Palaeolithic that seems to show a link between ornaments and Neanderthal remains. This has previously been interpreted as indicating that Neanderthals were not intellectually inferior to modern people but possessed advanced cognition and behaviour. Our work says there is a big question mark over whether this link exists.'


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. T. Higham, R. Jacobi, M. Julien, F. David, L. Basell, R. Wood, W. Davies, C. B. Ramsey. Chronology of the Grotte du Renne (France) and implications for the context of ornaments and human remains within the Chatelperronian. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1007963107

Cite This Page:

University of Oxford. "Did Neanderthals make jewellery after all?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 November 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101026131252.htm>.
University of Oxford. (2010, November 1). Did Neanderthals make jewellery after all?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101026131252.htm
University of Oxford. "Did Neanderthals make jewellery after all?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101026131252.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Japan Celebrates 'bullet Train' Anniversary

Raw: Japan Celebrates 'bullet Train' Anniversary

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) — A ceremony marking 50 years since Japan launched its Shinkansen bullet train was held on Wednesday in Tokyo. The latest model can travel from Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of 319 miles, in two hours and 25 minutes. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Battle of New Orleans Cannon Gets New Carriage

Battle of New Orleans Cannon Gets New Carriage

AP (Sep. 30, 2014) — A Spanish cannon used in the Battle of New Orleans and weighing nearly 3 tons was lowered Tuesday by pulleys, chains and muscle onto a new gun carriage like one that might have held it once aboard a navy ship. (Sept. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
2,000 Year Old Pre-Inca Cloak on Display in Lima

2,000 Year Old Pre-Inca Cloak on Display in Lima

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) — A 2,000 year-old Pre-Inca cloak that is believed to represent an agricultural calendar of the Paracas culture is on display in Lima. Duration: 00:39 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Original Mozart Sonata Manuscript Found in Budapest

Original Mozart Sonata Manuscript Found in Budapest

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) — Considered lost for over two centuries, the original manuscript of one of the most famous works of Mozart's Sonata in A major has been uncovered in a library in Budapest. Duration: 01:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins