Neanderthals organised their living space just like humans in a structured way, study finds

Findings point to ‘comparable cognitive capacities’ for both modern humans and Neanderthals

Vishwam Sankaran
Friday 12 April 2024 06:10 BST
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Neanderthals, far from being primitive, organised their living spaces much like modern humans do, a new study reveals.

Researchers analysing artefacts and features of the Riparo Bombrini site in northwestern Italy found common patterns of settlement between the two populations.

They mapped the distribution of stone tools, animal bones, ochre, and marine shells across the surface of two layers of the site when the two populations lived there.

Scientists could model the site’s spatial features and identify patterns in how these ancient humans utilised the space and the activities they carried out there.

The analysis helped paint a comprehensive picture of the similarities and differences in behaviour between these ancient populations.

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Researchers found that both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens exhibited a structured use of space, organising their living areas into distinct high and low-intensity activity zones,

This suggests that these ancient populations had a similar cognitive capacity for spatial organisation.

Both groups also exhibited similar tendencies in occupying the space, such as a recurring position of the site’s inner hearths as well as a refuse pit persisting at both levels.

Similar to modern humans, Neanderthals also seem to have planned their occupation of spaces in terms of how long they planned to stay, the kinds of activities they hoped to carry out there, and the number of occupants they shared the place with.

Scientists also found some differences in how the two populations used the site.

For instance, there were fewer clusters of artefacts in the layers inhabited by Neanderthals.

While humans alternated between short-term and long-term use of the site, Neanderthals seem to have used it sporadically.

The findings overall reveal that both populations had “an underlying logic” to how they used their space, suggesting “comparable cognitive capacities” for both modern humans and Neanderthals.

“Like Homo sapiens, Neanderthals organized their living space in a structured way, according to the different tasks that took place there and to their needs. So this is yet another study indicating that Neanderthals were more ‘human’ than is generally assumed,” study co-author Amélie Vallerand from the Université de Montréal in Canada said.

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