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'Stupid' Neanderthals' tools were just as good.

Neanderthals do not deserve their "stupid" reputation and used stone tools just as good as those invented by early modern humans, say scientists.

New research challenges the assumption our ancestors drove Neanderthals to extinction by outclassing them in tool technology.

Other reasons may now have to be found to explain why Neanderthals vanished from Europe 28,000 years ago, after living alongside modern humans for some 10,000 years.

DNA evidence suggests Neanderthals were a separate type of human distinct from Homo sapiens.

When early modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals had been living on the continent for around 100,000 years.

They are thought to have evolved in Europe after a much earlier migration from Africa.

The initial belief these human creatures were primitive and ape-like is known to be wrong.

Like modern humans, Neanderthals had culture, used tools, and hunted with weapons.

They may even have spoken a rudimentary language.

For 60 years the belief has persisted Homo sapiens were intellectually more advanced than Neanderthals, enabling them to come out top in the competition to survive.

Evidence is said to be found in the kind of tools the two species used.

Both employed Aint stone tools known as "Aakes", simply made from fragments struck off a larger stone "core". But Homo sapiens later adopted "blades" which were Aakes with parallel edges twice as long as wide.

Blades are assumed to be more ef Bcient cutting implements. However, this is now questioned by transatlantic research.

A team re-created both kinds of tool and tested their cutting ability and resilience, and the rate at which they could be manufactured.

The data showed no statistical difference in the efBciency of the two technologies.

In some respects, the Aakes favoured by Neanderthals were more efBcient than Homo sapiens' blades.

Experimental archaeologist Metin Eren, from the University of Exeter, said: "Our research disputes a major pillar holding up the long-held assumption Homo sapiens were more advanced. It is time for archaeologists to start searching for other reasons why Neanderthals became extinct. Technologically speaking, there is no clear advantage of one tool over the other. When we think of Neanderthals, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' and more in terms of 'different."' The scientists believe early modern humans adopted the new technology more for cultural or symbolic than practical reasons.

Mr Eren added: "Colonising a continent isn't easy. Colonising during the Ice Age is even harder. So, for early Homo sapiens colonising Ice Age Europe, a new shared and Aashylooking technology might serve as one form of social glue by which larger social networks were bonded.

"During hard times and resource droughts, these larger social networks might act like a type of 'life insurance', ensuring exchange and trade among members on the same 'team.'"

Better social networking may have given Homo sapiens a survival advantage over Neanderthals, he said.

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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 26, 2008
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