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Did Neanderthals sailed to Mediterranean islands?

Last Updated: Saturday, November 17, 2012 - 23:46

Washington: A study has provided new evidence which suggests that Neanderthals, or even older Homo erectus (“Upright Man”) might have sailed around the Mediterranean, stopping at islands such as Crete and Cyprus.

The evidence indicted that these hominid species had cognitive skills to build boats and navigate them.

“They had to have had boats of some sort; unlikely they swam,” Discovery News quoted Alan Simmons, lead author of a study about the find, as writing in this week’s Science.

“Many of the islands had no land-bridges, thus they must have had the cognitive ability to both build boats and know how to navigate them,” he added.

Simmons, a professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, added that there is no direct evidence for boats dating back to over 100,000 years ago. If they were built then, the wood or other natural materials likely eroded.

However, other clues hint that modern humans may not have been the first to set foot on Mediterranean islands.

On Crete, for example, tools such as quartz hand-axes, picks and cleavers are associated with deposits that may date to 170,000 years ago.

Excavations at an Akrotiri site on Cyprus have turned up ancient thumbnail scrapers and other tools dating to beyond 9,000 years ago. There is also a huge assembly of fossils for a dwarf pygmy hippopotamus, which might have been a good food for the earlier islanders. It’s possible they hunted the small, plump animal to extinction.

“Conventional wisdom used to be that none of these islands had too much settlement prior to the Neolithic because the islands were too impoverished to have supported permanent occupation. This likely is untrue. Hunters and gatherers can be pretty creative,” Simmons said.

Other evidence outside of the Mediterranean supports that pre-Neolithic humans could sail. Simmons, for instance, pointed out that these individuals “must have been able to cross substantial expanses of sea to reach Australia by at least 50,000 years ago.”

“Additionally,” he continued, “findings from the Indonesian Wallacea islands suggest the presence of hominins as early as 1.1 million years ago on Flores Island.”

Thomas Strasser, an associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Providence College, told Discovery that he believes “future research will confirm recent discoveries that hominids reached the Mediterranean islands when they first left Africa. I believe the Homo erectus radiation out of Africa was both terrestrial and maritime.”


First Published: Saturday, November 17, 2012 - 18:42

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