Did we get our technology from Neanderthals?

Sun, 14 Nov 1999 21:26:25 +0000

The Upper Paleolithic is one of the crucial periods of time in humanities
drive toward technological mastery. The first Upper Paleolithic tool
industry is called Chatelperronian. It is always found above the
Aurignacian levels in Europe. Neanderthals ( Mellars, 1999, p. 343) This
has been interpreted as indicating a lack of inventiveness on the part of
the Anthropologists have generally ascribed the invention of the
Aurignacian to anatomically modern humans. Christian apologists have
followed suit claiming that Neandertals are not as inventive as modern
humans. Wilcox writes:

"In fact, one could speculate that the Neanderthal use of Mousterian
techniques was imitation rather than invention, for it could have been
invented by the Qafzeh people, and passed on (in part) to their Neanderthal
neighbors (and thence on into Europe) to be used without change. Consider
this inlight of Mellar's evaluation of the Chatelperronian industries of
Roc de Combe. Modern man and Neanderthal alternated in residence at this
location for a few hundred years around 34,000 ago. Mellars suggests that
after modern humans arrived with their Aurignacian tool-making techniques,
the local Neanderthals picked up some of the Aurignacian techniques and
modified their Mousterian 'tool kit,' producing the Chatelperronian
industries....To Mellars, this suggests an acculturation phenomenon, which
implies Neanderthals were capable imitators (like AMH) but not creative
inventors (unlike AMH)." (Wilcox, 1996, p. 93)

The classic view of the Middle/Upper Paleolithic transition in Europe
around 40,000 years ago has postulated that anatomically modern invaders
swept across Europe from east to west, coming out of the Middle East with a
new Upper Paleolithic Aurignacian technology. This is the view that has
held sway for nearly 50 years with modifications for various discoveries.
The anatomically modern humans are believed to be the makers of the
Aurignacian-style lithic tools. An earlier version of the theory held that
anatomcally modern men also made an earlier Upper Paleolithic stone tool
assemblage-the Chatelperronian. The invasion theory was modified in 1979 by
two discoveries in which is was shown that Neanderthal was the maker of the
Upper Paleolithic Chatelperronian stone tool assemblage. At Arcy-Sur-Cure
and Saint-Cesaire, Neanderthal skeletal remains were found in association
with the Chatelperronian tool kit. (Mellars, 1999, p.342)The invasionist
theory was then modified to allow Neanderthal to copy, but not invent the
Upper Paleolithic.

The Neanderthals were viewed as having been overcome rather quickly by the
onslaught of anatomically modern humans, lasting no longer than 5-10,000
years. They were viewed as having retreated to Spain where they maintained
a last stand until around 30,000 years ago. All this is under severe strain
by new information.

The invasionist theory would predict several features of the
anthropological record. It would predict that the oldest Aurignacian tools
should be found in the Middle East, that the oldest Aurignacian sites
should move across Europe east to west with the older sites in eastern
Europe and progressively younger sites in western Europe. It would predict
that anatomically modern men should be found in sediments containing
Aurginacian tools. It would predict that Neanderthals should be found last
in Spain.

What we are finding is that all these predictions are wrong. First the
oldest occurrence of the Upper Paleolithic Aurignacian is NOT in the Middle
East as the invasionist theory should suppose but along the Northern coast
of Spain! And the dates show that the Aurignacian spread from Spain to the
north and south! Mellars notes:

"As discussed above, effectively everyone, including d'Errico et al., now
seems to agree that typically Aurignacian or 'Proto-Aurignacian' industries
were being produced at several sites in northern Spain by around 38-40,000
B. P. in radiocarbon terms-best documented in the recently excavated
sequences at L'Arbreda, El Castillo, and Abric Romani, all dated by
multiple and seemingly mutually consistent series of radiocarbon
measurements to between 37,000 and 41,000 B. P. But to assume that the
Aurignacian necessarily appeared at the same date in all parts of western
Europe would clearly be hazardous, as if d'Errico et al. Acknowledge in
their discussion of the aparently very late appearance of the Aurignacian
in southern Spain and Portugal. What emerges very strikingly from the
pattern of radiocarbon dates plotted in figure 2 is that whilst we now have
a total of 20 separate radiocarbon measurements of between 37,000 and
41,000 B. P. for Aurignacian levels in the northern Spanish sites, we have
not so far been able to secure a single radiocarbon date for an early
Aurignacian level in the 'classic' region of southwestern France earlier
than c. 36,000 B. P. As figure 2 reveals there is now a striking clustering
of the earliest Aurgnacian dates in this region between 33,000 and 36,000
B. P., with dates in this time-range from seven sites(Abri Pataud, La
Rochette, La Ferrassie, Le Flageolet, Abri Castanet, Combe-Sauniere, and
Roc-de-Combe). Unless all of these dates are heavily distorted by
contamination-which seems highly unlikely on many different counts-the
obvious implication is that the main occupation of southwestern france by
Aurignacian groups did not occur until around 35-36,000 B. P. in
radiocarbon terms-that is around 4,000-5000 years later than the earliest
Aurignacian in the northern Spanish sites." Paul Mellars, "The Neanderthal
Problem Continued," Current Anthropology, 40(1999):3:341-364, p. 347-348

This is on the NORTHERN coast of Spain, Surely a very strange place for
modern humans to have first invaded Europe from Africa. It would mean that
they traveled by sea from Morocco around to the northern part of Spain and
then inhabited Neandertal Spain! The data clearly shows that the Upper
Paleolithic was invented in a region far from the Middle East and
surrounded by Neanderthal sites to the north and the south. It then spread
to the north 5000 years later into Neanderthal France.

Given that this spread of the 'inventive' Upper Paleolithic from a center
in a region unlikely to have been occupied by modern man, obviously leaves
open the possibility that Neanderthals actually were the inventor!

Now comes the new radioacative dates from Vindija Cave and Velika Pecina in
Croatia. It casts doubt on the third prediction of the invasionist theory,
the early entrance of anatomically modern man into Europe. The Velika
Pecina hominids, from Croatia, had been believed to be the oldest modern
humans in Europe. They had been dated by the strata in which they lay as
34,850 years BP. Smith et al dated the fossil directly with the result
that it was 5000 years old and thus an intrusive into the 34,850 year old
layer. According to Smith et al, the other pre-32,000 year old anatomically
modern human fossils have severe dating problems. Smith et al write:

"Only a few other early modern human skeletal specimens are associated with
dates >32 ka B. P., and many of these, especially those older than ~32 ka
B. P., are problematic." (Smith et al, 1999, p. 12282

According to Bernard Campbell, the next oldest securely dated anatomically
modern human dates 26,000 years B.P. Campbell writes (1996, p. 463):

"No neandertal fossil has been given a reliable date more recent than
36,000 years B. P. (St. Cesaire). A date of about 34,000 years B. P. has
been published for a frontal bone of modern form found at the European site
of Velika Pecina. After that, the oldest securely dated modern skeletal
material from Europe comes from a site near the town of Pavlov in the Czech
Republic at about 26,000 years B. P."

Since Campbell wrote that, two discoveries have shown that Neanderthal
lived much later than previously believed. Neanderthal lived until 30,000
years ago at Zafarraya in southern Spain. (Mellars, 1998). Smith et al show
that the Vindija Cave Neandertal, which is associated with Aurignacian
tools, dates to between 30 and 27,000 years making it the youngest

Given the facts that 1. the last known Neanderthal is in Eastern Europe,
is associated with the Upper Paleolithic Aurignacian tools, 2. The
Aurignacian spread from the western Neanderthal regions into eastern
Europe, 3. That no securely dated anatomically modern men are found prior
to 26,000 years ago, one must clearly doubt the applicability of the
invasionist theory of Europe. This of course leads to a possible revision
of the capabilities of Neanderthal as promulgated by Christian apologists.
Those like Wilcox, and Ross, who believe that Neanderthals were not us,
must now deal with the possiblitity that we anatomically modern humans
acquired our vaunted Upper Paleolithic technology from those we
denigrate-the Neanderthals. It very well might have been we were the less
inventive ones.


Bernard G. Campbell and James D. Loy, Humankind Emerging, (New York:
HarperCollins, 1996).

Paul Mellars, 1998. "The fate of the Neanderthals, "Nature 395, 539 - 540

Paul Mellars, "The Neanderthal Problem Continued", Current Anthropology,
June 1999, 40:3:341-364.

Fred H. Smith, Erik Trinkaus, Paul B. Pettitt, Ivor Karavanic, and Maja
Paunovic, "Direct Radiocarbon Dates for Vindija G1 and Velika Pecina Late
Pleistocene Hominid Remains," Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, 96(1999):2:12281-12286

David L. Wilcox, "Adam, Where Are You? Changing Paradigms in
Paleoanthropology," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith , 48:2(
June 1996).


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