Anthropological Quotes for the Day

Glenn R. Morton (
Mon, 14 Sep 1998 21:53:21 -0500

I just read an old article on Neanderthal tools by the world's former
leading authority on Neanderthal tools. He died a few years back but his
work was extremely well respected.

he wrote:

"Hence, many misconceptions are to be found in popular books, even
textbooks, the most common being the one about the 'brutish Neanderthals."
Reconstructions show him as only a little better off than the big apes, and
his tools (Mousterian) are described as 'crude' by people who would not, to
save their lives, be able to make them. The truth is, indeed, quite
different." ~ Francois Bordes, "Mousterian Cultures in France," Science
134(1961):803-810, p. 803

This has not changed even after 37 years. Hayden writes:

"Production of these Levallois flakes requires a high degree of precision,
intelligence and training. In my estimation, and in the estimation of
other flintknappers, even today, there are few students of lithic
technology that ever achieve a Neandertal's level of expertise in producing
good Levallois cores or flakes, while the number of contemporary
flinknappers that have successfully mastered the technique for producing
good Levallois points probably number less than a score. The production of
a simple prismatic blade is incomparably easier than the manufacture of a
Levallois point. According to John Shea, it is even easier to thin a North
American biface than to produce a Levallois point; an assessment with which
the author fully agrees." ~ Brian Hayden "The Cultural Capacities of
Neandertals ", Journal of Human Evolution 1993, 24:113-146, p. 118

The other day I made some responses to David Wilcox's assertions in PSCF
about Neanderthal Borde's article had something to say about one of
Wilcox's statements that is worth repeating.

Wilcox said

David Wilcox (PSCF, 1996, p. 92) who states:

" clear indication of permanent settlements ..."

Borde refutes that convincingly as long ago as 1961. Bordes wrote:

"It is difficult to accept the idea that the peoples of the Mousterian
changed their tool assemblage four times a year, according to season.
Moreover, the thickness of occupation layers in the caves and shelters
argues against a one-season stay. Each layer indicates a stay of
considerable length. One might suppose that there were spring, summer,
autumn, and winter caves, occupied only at a particular time of year, but
it is difficult to imagine the existence of a kind of convention among all
the Mousterian tribes, governing the use of a cave, assuring that a given
cave would be kept as a 'spring cave' and that no summer or winter cultural
material would be mixed with the spring tools. Moreover, we have very good
reason to think that these caves were occupied all year round. It is
possible to tell, from a study of a reindeer's antlers and teeth, how old
the animal was when it was killed, and as a consequence, since the typical
birth season of the reindeer is known, we can tell at what time of a year a
reindeer was killed. It appears that reindeer were killed at all times of
the year by the occupants of these caves--proof that man occupied the caves
all year round." ~ Francois Bordes, "Mousterian Cultures in France,"
Science 134(1961):803-810, p. 806

This is permanent settlement by the Neanderthals.

And even if we are not related to Neanderthals we owe them a technological

"Most of the stone tools which were developed in Upper Paleolithic times by
Homo sapiens were invented by Mousterian or even Acheulean peoples. The
blade (that is, a blade made through a special technique of debitage and
not the result of a flaking accident) goes back at least to the end of the
Acheulean, and in some Mousterian assemblages blades comprise up to 40
percent of the debitage. End scrapers and burins were known in the Middle
Acheulean. The backed knife is an Acheulean invention also. But if all
these tools already existed in the Acheulean, they were further developed
and diversified in the Mousterian. Even the multiple tool is found in the
Mousterian; some complex tools--for instance, a burin combined with an end
scraper--are also found, but rarely." ~ Francois Bordes, "Mousterian
Cultures in France," Science 134(1961):803-810, p. 810

Bordes concludes:

"And even if some anthropologists deny to Neanderthal man (sensu stricto)
the right to be counted among our direct ancestors, one thing is sure:
these ancestors, of ours were at a cultural level very like that of the
Mousterian peoples. So we come uncomfortably close to the old joke: It was
not William Shakespeare who wrote Hamlet but another man who lived at the
same time and whose name was also William Shakespeare!" ~ Francois Bordes,
"Mousterian Cultures in France," Science 134(1961):803-810, p.810


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