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Updated: September 23, 2010 01:57 IST

Neanderthals could innovate on their own

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EVOLUTION: Neanderthal face, reconstructed.
EVOLUTION: Neanderthal face, reconstructed.

New research from the University of Colorado Denver now shows Neanderthals could adapt, innovate and evolve technology on their own in contrast to the till now held belief that they developed ‘modern' tools and ornaments solely through contact with Homo sapiens.

The research, to be published in December's Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, was based on seven years of studying Neanderthal sites throughout Italy and conducted by anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore.

The findings challenge a half-century of conventional wisdom maintaining that Neanderthals were thick-skulled, primitive `cavemen' overrun and outcompeted by more advanced modern humans arriving in Europe from Africa. About 42,000 years ago, the Aurignacian culture, attributed to modern Homo sapiens, appeared in northern Italy while central Italy continued to be occupied by Neanderthals of the Mousterian culture which had been around for at least 100,000 years.

At this time a new culture arose in the south, one also thought to be created by Neanderthals. They were the Uluzzian and they were very different.

Riel-Salvatore identified projectile points, ochre, bone tools, ornaments and possible evidence of fishing and small game hunting at Uluzzian archeological sites throughout southern Italy, according to a university of Colorado press release. Such innovations, not associated with Neanderthals, strongly suggesting that they evolved independently, possibly due to dramatic changes in climate.

More importantly, they emerged in an area geographically separated from modern humans. The conclusion is that if the Uluzzians are Neanderthal it suggests that contacts with modern humans are not necessary to explain the origin of this new behaviour.

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