Neanderthals 'were ahead of their time'


Jun 15, 2007

Big, brutish and stupid - it's a commonly held view that our prehistoric predecessors were as wild and unsophisticated as the animals they hunted.

But Neanderthal man was not as slow-witted as he looked and was in reality as smart as we are, an archaeologist claims.

They were actually innovators who used different forms of tools to adapt to the ecological challenges posed by harsh habitats as they spread through Europe. Although our ancestors have become the butt of jokes about people who are stupid or unenlightened, they were years ahead of their time.

Dr Terry Hopkinson, of Leicester University, said Neanderthals were far from behaviourally static and incorporated different forms of tool construction into a single technique.

He said: "There has been a consensus that the modern human mind turned on like a light switch about 50,000 years ago, only in Africa."

But the modern traits accompanying the change such as abstract art, the use of grindstones and elongated stone blades, and big-game hunting began to accumulate in Africa from 300,000 years ago.

Archaeological finds from across Europe also show the Neanderthals fused two forms of tool-making called the faconnage and the debitage techniques. Neanderthals had previously been thought of as incapable of innovation, said Dr Hopkinson, as it was assumed to be something unique to Homo sapiens.