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Tracking Neanderthal hunters.

Tracking Neanderthal hunters

Preliminary excavations conducted in 1988 and 1989 inside a cave on Italy's west coast, as well as evidence from four nearby cave sites, suggest that sometime between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals in the region shifted from periodic scavenging of animal carcasses to consistent ambush hunting--a tactic often associated only with anatomically modern humans. In fact, Neanderthal artifacts from that period closely resemble those of modern Homo sapiens inhabiting western Italy around 30,000 years ago, reports anthropoligist Steven L. Kuhn of the University of New Mexico in Albunquerque.

His conclusion, reported in the Summer AnthroQuest, contrasts with the traditional view of Neanderthals as foragers who used the same simple tools from around 150,000 to 40,000 years ago. Future excavtions at the cave, known as Grotta Breauil, will evaluate possible evolutionary links between Neanderthals and modern humans in Italy, Kuhn says.

Many anthropologists now claim that modern humans originated in Africa around 250,000 years ago and spread throughout the world as Neanderthals become extinct. Other vehemently argue that modrn humans arose in several regions nearly 1 million years ago, and interbred to some degree with Neanderthals.

In the Italian cave, Kuhn and New Mexico colleague Mary Stiner excavated artifact-bearing layers of earth dating to between 34,000 and 40,000 years ago. Sharpened stone blades, flakes and points unearthed by the researchers resemble the relatively simple stone tools found at other Neanderthal sites. But unlike the other sites, stone remnants in the coastal cave lie among the bones of numerous animals killed in their prime. Since nearly all parts of the animals' skeletons appear, the cave's residents probably practiced ambush hunting rather than scavenging of carcass remains, Kuhn maintains.

Evidence for Neanderthal hunters also emerged from an analysis completed this year by Kuhn and Stiner of animal bones and stone artifacts found at four other Italian caves by separate groups of investigators. Those remains fall into two general groups, Kuhn asserts. One group, dating to between 120,000 and 55,000 years ago, contains heavily used and resharpened tools. The few animal bones found with these tools mainly consist of cranial fragments from relatively old creatures, probably obtained through scavenging.

The second group, placed at between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago, contains stone tools that often were not resharpened or reused. The large and diverse array of animal bones in this group suggests hunters carried entire carcasses to the caves and consumed them there, Kuhn says. and consumed them there, Kuhn says.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 13, 1990
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