Neanderthal Intelligence

Glenn R. Morton (
Wed, 02 Sep 1998 23:09:59 -0500

Over the past 20-30 years, anthropology has claimed that there was no
hunting prior to the advent of modern Homo sapiens. Schick and Toth state,

"Richard Klein of the University of Chicago has pointed out that it is
unlikely that Oldowan hominids could have been very competent big game
hunters, as the archaeological evidence suggests that even much later
hominids were not yet very adept at large-scale-predation. Relatively
efficient human hunting may be a fairly recent evolutionary phenomenon,
developing only within the last few tens of thousands of years." ~ Kathy D.
Schick and Nicholas Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak, (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1993), p. 207-208

"Taking scavenged food back to living sites was probably a characteristic
of hominid behavior by the Upper Acheulean and on into the Middle Stone Age
of Africa (or the Mousterian in Europe)." ~ Lewis Binford, In Pursuit of
the Past, (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1983), p. 75

The Mousterian was the tool types made prior to 40,000 years ago.

The implication of this 'scavenging' view of ancient Neanderthals and H.
erectus was to denigrate the intelligence of those ancient men. Hunting
requires planning, foresight and a complex interpersonal interactions. And
when anthropologists believed that Neandertals and others were merely
scavengers, they could be relegated to a lower status. Christians have
followed this lead for theological reasons. Hugh Ross has claimed that
ancient hominids like neanderthals were merely 'bipedal mammals'. (see Hugh
Ross, "Link with Neanderthals Cut by Computer," Facts & Faith, 9:3, 3rd
Qtr. 1995, p. 22)

But this view changed dramatically when Theime discovered hunting spears
made by men PRIOR to the time that Neanderthals lived. Robin Dennell wrote:

"The implications of the Schoningen spears are no less extraordinary
than the degree of their preservation. First, these are unquestionably
spears, and second, as such they must have been used for hunting large
mammals. Why are these simple inferences so significant to paleolithic
archaeologists? The
reason is simply that hunting has become profoundly unfashionable in
discussions of the lower, and even Middle, Palaeolithic over the past
twenty years. Until the 1960s, stone tools associated with large mammal
remains were routinely explained as indicating the butchery of animals that
had been hunted. Important examples were the initial interpretations of the
very ancient 'living floors', 1.8 million years old, at Olduvai in
Tanzania, and
the alleged elephant hunters at the much younger, Middle Pleistocene sites
of Torralba and Ambrona, Spain. Then came a long reappraisal of how these
stone tools and hominid and other mammal remains were found together. This
was driven initially by Brain's re-examination of the australopithecine
at Swartkrans, South Africa, by Binford's criticisms of the assumptions and
methodologies used at Olduvai and, later, by patient analysis of cut-and
gnawing-marks, surface weathering and skeletal parts frequency at Koobi
Fora and Olduvai, often under the inspiration of the late Glynn Isaac.
"By the early 1980s, few of the claims for big-game hunting in the
Lower and even Middle Palaeolithic could be substantiated, as evidence was
too disturbed, fragmented and poorly preserved to show deliberate,
purposeful hunting. Scavenging by both carnivores and hominids seemed a
more reasonable inference, and some even suggested that big-game hunting
did not occur until the appearance of fully modern humans in the Upper
Pleistocene, about 40,000 years ago. To fit this picture, the Clacton and
Lehringen spears were down-graded to digging-sticks or, imaginatively,
snow-probes for locating buried carcasses." ~ Robin Dennell, "The World's
Oldest Spears," Nature 385(Feb. 27, 1997), p. 767
"The Schoningen spears now provide unambiguous evidence that large animals
were killed in this manner by 400,000 years ago.
"The spears have other exciting implications. First, the time and
skill needed to make them: each is made from the trunk of a 30-year-old
spruce tree; in each, the end with the tip come from the base of the trunk,
where the wood is hardest; and each has the same proportions, with the
center of gravity a third of the way from the sharp end, as in a modern
javelin. These represent considerable investment of time and skill--in
selecting an appropriate tree, in roughing out the design and in the final
stages of shaping. In other words, these hominids were not living within a
spontaneous 'five-minute culture', acting opportunistically in response to
immediate situations. Rather, we see considerable depth of planning,
sophistication of design, and patience in carving the wood, all of which
have been attributed only to modern humans." ~ Robin Dennell, "The World's
Oldest Spears," Nature 385(Feb. 27, 1997), p. 767-768

Given this, there has begun to be a revision of the intelligence of
Neanderthals and an interesting article appeared in the June Current
Anthopology. It is Curtis W. Marean and Soo Yeun Kim, "Mousterian
Large-Mammal Remains from Kobeh Cave" Current Anthropology 39(Supplement
June 1998) pp S79-S113.

Neanderthals were said to be scavengers because the only animal remains
found in their caves were heads and feet. Anthropologists noted that there
was little meat on such bones and the lack of meat-laden bones showed that
they were only able to get the leavings from other carnivores after they
had eaten the best parts. In other words this was claimed to be evidence
that Neanderthals were incompentent hunters.

But Marean and Kim showed two things. First they showed that old
excavations threw out the midshafts of the leg bones, keeping only the
ends. Then the traditional procedure was to look for cut marks on the end
parts of the bones looking for evidence of cutting on the meatiest bones.
But modern hunters make most of the cuts on the mid-shafts which have been
tossed in most head-and-foot dominated sites. This procedure biases the
result. Marean and Kim state:

"The results just discussed have relevance for interpreting the frequency
of surface modification at the five sites where scavenging has been
inferred. Chase has described the excavation procedures used at Combe
Grenal: 'Because shaft fragments of long bones, etc. had not always been
collected, a high proportion of the bone was identifiable to precise
skeletal location and to a low taxonomic level.' Binford provides
confirmation: 'Bordes followed traditional procedures relative to the
collection of faunal materials, instructing his crew to save only teeth,
articulator ends, and phalanges in the belief that ribs, longbone
splinters, vertebrae, small fragments of skull, scapula blades, and pelvic
parts other than the acetabulum were not suitable for species
identification.' Similarly, only the most identifiable bones were retained
during the excavations of Klasies River Mouth, Grotta dei Moscerini, and
Grotta Guattari. At Grotte Vaufrey, all bones were retained, but so far
midshaft fragments have not been included in the estimates of
skeletal-element abundance.
"Excluding mid-shaft fragments from the analysis as was done at these five
sites would impact frequencies of surface modification in important ways
that would make the assemblages appear scavenged. " ~ Curtis W. Marean and
Soo Yeun Kim, "Mousterian Large Mammal Remains from Kobeh Cave," Current
Anthropology, Supplement, 39(1998):79-113, p. 86-87

Secondly, Marean and Kim fit together the mid-shaft fragments from Kobeh
Cave and discovered that they show much evidence of hunting. In other
words the hominids were cutting the meatiest parts of the animal and the
anthropologists were throwing the evidence away, and thereby making
Neanderthals (who lived in Kobeh) appear as scavengers rather than the
compentent hunters that they were!

"The cut-mark data presented above show that the Kobeh hominids were
defleshing the long bones while substantial amounts of flesh were still
attached. The percussion-mark frequencies document that they were breaking
the bones for marrow after defleshing them. The carnivore-tooth-mark data
provide compelling evidence that the tooth marks on the Kobeh bones do not
derive from hominids' scavenging from carcasses fed on first by carnivores;
rather, carnivores scavenged the bones that were discarded by the hominds."
~ Curtis W. Marean and Soo Yeun Kim, "Mousterian Large Mammal Remains from
Kobeh Cave," Current Anthropology, Supplement, 39(1998):79-113, p. 87

What is the reaction of the reviewers to this paper? It is nearly unanimous.

Otte states:

"At last! The proof has come about through the very methods and in the
original milieux that gave rise to the curious idea of the prehistoric
scavenger awaiting his meal! How could such a behavioural pattern have
affected such a vast population, such an enormous spread through space and
time? No rule of this kind (i.e., Man scavenged but did not hunt) could
possibly be applied globally to such a diversity of situations, and yet the
scavenging theory was written, adopted, repeated by the 'finest minds.'
Only the requisite application of the same methodology could reveal its
deficiencies. The scavenging theory, based on the doubtful hypothesis of a
difference in capabilities from those of modern man, forms part of the
mythical arsenal that involves relegating the capabilities of earlier
humans to the lowest possible level the better to confirm our position at
the pinnacle of evolution. This mythical science is hard ot kill and
wreaks havoc in the meantime. Congratulations to the authors for this fine
demonstration." ~ Marcel Otte, "Comments," in Curtis W. Marean and Soo Yeun
Kim, "Mousterian Large Mammal Remains from Kobeh Cave," Current
Anthropology, Supplement, 39(1998):79-113, p. 97

"It is apparent from their discussion that zooarchaeologists are
interpreting self-created patterns that may have little to do with
neanderthal or early modern human subsistence practices." ~ Haskel J.
Greenfield, "Comments," in Curtis W. Marean and Soo Yeun Kim, "Mousterian
Large Mammal Remains from Kobeh Cave," Current Anthropology, Supplement,
39(1998):79-113, p. 96

"Marean and Kim have made a useful contribution to the discourse on
Paleolithic subsistence. They demonstrate the relevance of shaft fragments
in the analysis of Paleolithic fauna and argue that 'there is no evidence
that Neanderthals or early modern humans procured large mammals primarily
from scavenging.' We are in agreement with their conclusions from Kobeh
Cave and further agree that a detailed analysis of shaft fragments is
essential if archaeozoologists are correctly to interpret assemblages from
Paleolithic sites. Conclusions drawn from case studies where excavators
did not collect these elements or analysts did not systematically study
them are flawed, as they suggest, and need to be regarded with caution." ~
Nicholas J. Conard and Hans-Peter Uerpmann, "Comments," in Curtis W.
Marean and Soo Yeun Kim, "Mousterian Large Mammal Remains from Kobeh
Cave," Current Anthropology, Supplement, 39(1998):79-113, p. 93

"Marean and Kim turn the debate about Middle Paleolithic subsistence
ecology on its head. Through judicious use of the some of the models
concerning surfacemark frequencies and skeletal-part profiles, they
demonstrate elegantly that all prior interpretations of Middle Paleolithic
bone assemblages that show evidence of carnivore involvement have been
compromised, if not completely corrupted, by collector or analytical bias
against long bone shafts." ~ Robert J. Blumenschine, "Comments," in Curtis
W. Marean and Soo Yeun Kim, "Mousterian Large Mammal Remains from Kobeh
Cave," Current Anthropology, Supplement, 39(1998):79-113, p. 92

I will stop here. To conclude, the denigration of Neanderthal abilities
may finally come to an end. Vishnyatsky probably put it best:

"The demonstration that the Kobeh hominids were successful hunters implies
that no fundamental difference existed between Neanderthals and
anatomically modern humans as to their ability to hunt."
~ L. B. Vishnyatsky, "Comments," in Curtis W. Marean and Soo Yeun Kim,
"Mousterian Large Mammal Remains from Kobeh Cave," Current Anthropology,
Supplement, 39(1998):79-113, p. 104

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