Washington: Researchers have suggested that the widely held opinion that Neanderthals were dimwitted may not hold true.
In an extensive review of recent Neanderthal research, University of Colorado Boulder researcher Paola Villa and co-author Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, make the case that the available evidence does not support the opinion that Neanderthals were less advanced than anatomically modern humans.
Villa and Roebroeks scrutinized nearly a dozen common explanations for Neanderthal extinction that rely largely on the notion that the Neanderthals were inferior to anatomically modern humans and found that none of the hypotheses were supported by the available research.
Researchers have shown that Neanderthals likely herded hundreds of bison to their death by steering them into a sinkhole in southwestern France. At another site used by Neanderthals, this one in the Channel Islands, fossilized remains of 18 mammoths and five woolly rhinoceroses were discovered at the base of a deep ravine.
These findings imply that Neanderthals could plan ahead, communicate as a group and make efficient use of their surroundings, the authors said.
Other archaeological evidence unearthed at Neanderthal sites provides reason to believe that Neanderthals did in fact have a diverse diet.
Microfossils found in Neanderthal teeth and food remains left behind at cooking sites indicate that they may have eaten wild peas, acorns, pistachios, grass seeds, wild olives, pine nuts and date palms depending on what was locally available.
Additionally, researchers have found ochre, a kind of earth pigment, at sites inhabited by Neanderthals, which may have been used for body painting. Ornaments have also been collected at Neanderthal sites.
Taken together, these findings suggest that Neanderthals had cultural rituals and symbolic communication.
The paper has been published online in the journal PLOS ONE.