Neanderthals turned out to be as smart as Homo sapiens: a 20-year study shows

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
Neanderthals tamed fire and used it for their own benefit. Source: Scitechdaily/collage OBOZ.UA

Our not-so-distant ancestors, the Neanderthals, knew how to control fire and used it to cook food. This suggests that they were probably not much inferior in terms of intelligence to the Homo sapiens species, which includes modern humans.

This is stated in the results of almost 20 years of research, the conclusions of which were published in the scientific journal Plos one. There has long been agreement among archaeologists that Neanderthals knew how to use fire, but only now has evidence been found to confirm that Neanderthals not only knew how to use spontaneous fire, but also knew how to produce it, maintain it, and use it for their own needs.

According to Diego Angelucci, an archaeologist at the University of Trento (Italy) and co-author of the study, the new discovery confirms "observations and theories from previous research."

As the scientist explains, there is evidence that Neanderthals were capable of symbolic thinking, engaged in art and decorated their bodies with ornaments. They also had an extremely varied diet.

"Based on our findings, we can say with certainty that they were used to eating cooked food. This ability confirms that they were as skilled as the Sapiens who lived thousands of years later," Angelucci said.

The new study also proves that "Neanderthals knew how to make fire and that fire was a central element of their daily lives."

The remains of structured hearths used by Neanderthals were found in Grota de Oliveira in central Portugal. This place is one of the most important European archaeological sites of the Middle Paleolithic. Excavations there were carried out from 1989 to 2012.

The cave studied by the scientists is part of the Almond karst system, a large network of caves located at different heights above a large spring. It is believed that Neanderthals inhabited this place between 100,000 and 70,000 years ago.

During the study of the caves, traces of about a dozen deliberately constructed hearths were found. These hearths were built in basin-like structures measuring about 30 square meters and up to six meters deep.

Findings inside and near the hearths indicate that the cave dwellers used to cook here.

"We found burnt bones, burnt wood, and ashes. And the rock under them was reddened by the heat," the archaeologist said.

Among the foodstuffs were the remains and burnt bones of cooked goats, deer, horses, turs (extinct bulls), rhinos, and even turtles, which were probably put on a shell and stewed on hot stones.

The findings, according to Angelucci, show that fire was "a fundamental element of their daily life."

"It makes a place cozy and helps socialize. It gives them back the basic idea of 'home,'" the scientist added.

Despite the excavations, archaeologists have not been able to determine how Neanderthals started fire.

"Perhaps they did it like in Neolithic times, hitting flint stones against another stone to throw sparks to set fire to, for example, a dry nest. This is a prehistoric technique that we discovered while studying the Iceman of Etzi. However, so far we have not found any evidence of it," the archaeologist said.

He also noted that he and his colleagues were able to compare how Neanderthals and Homo sapiens lived in the area.

"We found no differences: they lived in caves in a similar way. Their skills are also a sign of intelligence. They did not belong to different species, I would say they were different human forms," Angelucci summarized.

As OBOZ.UA previously reported, scientists have learned that Neanderthals were a "parallel humanity" that coexisted with homo sapiens in Europe for several millennia.

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