Nav: Home

Discovery adds rock collecting to Neanderthal's repertoire

January 17, 2017

LAWRENCE --Maybe this Neanderthal was a rock hound?

An international group that includes a University of Kansas researcher has discovered a brownish piece of split limestone in a site in Croatia that suggests Neanderthals 130,000 years ago collected the rock that stands out among all other items in the cave.

"If we were walking and picked up this rock, we would have taken it home," said David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology who was part of the study. "It is an interesting rock."

The finding is important, he said, because it adds to other recent evidence that Neanderthals were capable -- on their own -- of incorporating symbolic objects into their culture. The rock was collected more than 100 years ago from the Krapina Neanderthal site, which has items preserved in the Croatian Natural History Museum in Zagreb, where in recent years the research team has re-examined them.

The group's findings on the collected rock at Krapina were published recently in the French journal Comptes Rendus Palevol. Davorka Radovčić, curator at the Croatian Natural History Museum, was the study's lead author, and Frayer is the corresponding author.

The same research group in a widely recognized 2015 study published a PLOS ONE article about a set of eagle talons from the same Neanderthal site that included cut marks and were fashioned into a piece of jewelry.

"People have often defined Neanderthals as being devoid of any kind of aesthetic feelings, and yet we know that at this site they collected eagle talons and they collected this rock. At other sites, researchers have found they collected shells and used pigments on shells," Frayer said. "There's a little bit of evidence out there to suggest that they weren't the big, dumb creatures that everybody thinks they were."

Similar to the Neanderthal jewelry discovery at Krapina, Frayer credits Radovčić's keen eye in examining all items found at that the site, originally excavated between 1899-1905 and found to contain Neanderthal bones.

The cave at the Krapina site was sandstone, so the split limestone rock stuck out as not deriving from the cave, Frayer said. None of the more than 1,000 lithic items collected from Krapina resemble the rock, but the original archaeologists apparently did nothing more with the rock other than to collect it.

Frayer said the limestone rock -- which is roughly five inches long, four inches high and about a half-inch thick -- did not have any striking platforms or other areas of preparation on the rock's edge, so the research team assumed it was not broken apart.

"The fact that it wasn't modified, to us, it meant that it was brought there for a purpose other than being used as a tool," Frayer said.

There was a small triangular flake that fits with the rock, but the break appeared to be fresh and likely happened well after the specimen was deposited into the sediments of the Krapina site. Perhaps it occurred during transport or storage after the excavation around 1900, he said.

The look of the rock also caught the researchers' eye as many inclusions or black lines on it stood out from the brown limestone. Perhaps that is what made the Neanderthal want to collect it in the first place.

"It looked like it is important," Frayer said. "We went back through all the collected items to make sure there weren't other rocks like it. It just sat there for 100 years like most of the other stuff from the site. The original archaeologists had described stone tools, but didn't pay any attention to this one."

They suspect a Neanderthal collected the rock from a site a few kilometers north of the Krapina site where there were known outcrops of biopelmicritic grey limestone. Either the Neanderthal found it there or the Krapinica stream transported it closer to the site.

The discovery of the rock collection is likely minor compared with other discoveries, such as more modern humans 25,000 years ago making cave paintings in France. However, Frayer said it added to a body of evidence that Neanderthals were capable assigning symbolic significance to objects and went to the effort of collecting them.

The discovery could also provide more clues as to how modern humans developed these traits, he said.

"It adds to the number of other recent studies about Neanderthals doing things that are thought to be unique to modern Homo sapiens," Frayer said. "We contend they had a curiosity and symbolic-like capacities typical of modern humans."
-end-
The study's other co-authors are, Ankica Oros Sršen, of the Institute for Quaternary Paleontology and Geology at the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts and Dražen Japundžić and Jakov Radovčić, both of the Department of Geology and Paleontology with the Croatian Natural History Museum.

University of Kansas

Related Neanderthals Articles:

The last Neanderthal necklace
For the first time, researchers found evidence of the ornamental uses of eagle talons in the Iberian Peninsula.
Insight into competitive advantage of modern humans over Neanderthals
A team of Japanese and Italian researchers, including from Tohoku University, have evidenced mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe dating to 45,000-40,000 years -- more than 20,000 years than previously thought.
Did a common childhood illness take down the neanderthals?
A new study suggests that the extinction of Neanderthals may be tied to persistent, life-long ear infections due to the structure of their Eustachian tubes, which are similar to those of human infants.
Denisovan finger bone more closely resembles modern human digits than Neanderthals
Scientists have identified the missing part of a finger bone fragment from the Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, revealing that Denisovans -- an early human population discovered when the original fragment was genetically sequenced in 2010 -- had fingers indistinguishable from modern humans despite being more closely related to Neanderthals.
Neanderthals commonly suffered from 'swimmer's ear'
Abnormal bony growths in the ear canal were surprisingly common in Neanderthals, according to a study published Aug.
Neanderthals used resin 'glue' to craft their stone tools
Archaeologists working in two Italian caves have discovered some of the earliest known examples of ancient humans using an adhesive on their stone tools -- an important technological advance called 'hafting.'
Neanderthals made repeated use of the ancient settlement of 'Ein Qashish, Israel
The archaeological site of 'Ein Qashish in northern Israel was a place of repeated Neanderthal occupation and use during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study released June 26, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ravid Ekshtain of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and colleagues.
Ancient DNA analysis adds chapter to the story of neanderthal migrations
After managing to obtain DNA from two 120,000-year-old European Neandertals, researchers report that these specimens are more genetically similar to Neandertals that lived in Europe 80,000 year later than they are to a Neandertal of similar age found in Siberia.
Neanderthals and modern humans diverged at least 800,000 years ago
Neanderthals and modern humans diverged at least 800,000 years ago, substantially earlier than indicated by most DNA-based estimates, according to new research by a UCL academic.
Woolly mammoths and Neanderthals may have shared genetic traits
A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that the genetic profiles of two extinct mammals with African ancestry -- woolly mammoths and Neanderthals -- shared molecular characteristics of adaptation to cold environments.
More Neanderthals News and Neanderthals Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.