Neanderthal spelunking

Glenn Morton (
Sun, 22 Jun 1997 15:40:18 -0500

New discoveries last year are showing that Neanderthal possessed more
sophistication than was previously believed. (Of course with the denigration
that Neanderthal has been subjected to over the past 20 years, this isn't
surprising). Berkowitz writes:

"A discovery by Francois Rouzaud of the French
archaeological service suggests Neandertals were more
sophisticated in their use of fire than previously believed. A
burnt bear bone found deep in a cave in southern France has been
dated to at least 47,600 years ago, before modern humans reached
western Europe. It proves Neandertals were able to use fire for
illumination. Earlier evidence showed only that they used fire
in simple hearths. The bone came from a 13- by 16-foot structure
made of stalactite and stalagmite fragments. Built by
Neandertals, its purpose is unknown."~Mark Berkowitz, "Neandertal
News," Archaeology, Sept./Oct. 1996, p. 22

Robert G. Bednarik, notes of the same discovery,

"The cave of Bruniquel in southern France has just produced
fascinating new evidence. Several hundred metres in from the
cave entrance, a stone structure has been discovered. It is
quadrilineal, measures four by five metres and has been
constructed from pieces of stalagmite and stalactite. A burnt
fragment of a bear bone found in it was radiocarbon analysed,
yielding a 'date' of greater than 47 600 years BP. This suggests
that the structure is the work of Neanderthals. It is located in
complete darkness, which proves that the people who ventured so
deep into the large cave system had reliable lighting and had the
confidence to explore such depths. Bruniquel is on of several
French caves that became closed subsequent to their Pleistocene
use, but were artifically opened this century."~Robert G.
Bednarick, "Neanderthal News," The Artefact 1996, 19:104

This discovery is important for two reasons. First it shows the ability to
construct structures. and secondly, it shows an incredible ability to plan
an expedition to regions of a cave far removed from sunlight. While the
following was a discussion of underground mining, many of the pre-requisites
for underground mining are required for building structures underground.
Bednarik notes,

"Underground mining involves quite a number of both technological and
cognitive pre-conditions. To begin with, it requires a preparedness to enter
an alien environment which most animal species avoid, or the behavioural
fexibility to manage a perhaps genetically determined cortical response
pattern to fear of caves. This already provides considerable insights into
the level of conscious decision making required in this context. Next, most
of the underground work presupposes the availability of artificial lighting,
and there is some evidence of lamps and torches having been involved in these
quests. It is also obvious from several of the sites that the mining
activities must have been team work, involving at least two or three people,
who no doubt had to co-ordinate various aspects of their efforts. We know
that a variety of mining tools were involved, and we can assume that items
such as pointed, perhaps fire-hardened wooden wedges were prepared outside the
cave. At a few sites there is evidence of the use of scaffolding, which would
imply even more planning. These observations together suggest that fairly
complex planning patterns need to be postulated. Finally, some of the caves
are of quite difficult access, and the sheer logistics of the mining
operations conducted in them must have involved engineering skills of an order
of magnitude few archaeologists would be currently prepared to credit any
'pre-Upper Palaeolithic' people with. Not only does the evidence for these
abilities permit considerably more insight into the cognitive, intellectual,
social and, presumably, linguistic skills of the people concerned than the
futile and yet perennial arguments about language ability, the hyoid bone and
Broca's area, there is still another factor to be considered."Robert G.
Bednarik, "Early Subterranean Chert Mining," The Artefact, 15:(1992), pp
11-24, p. 20-21

Once again, the abilities of Neanderthal have been underrated. Neanderthal
was human in the everyday sense of that word. Christians who wish to have a
recent Adam which excludes Neanderthal (in order to avoid evolution) should
reconsider their position.


Foundation, Fall and Flood