Neanderthals at home, as described in Science, vol. 326, p1056, 20 Nov 2009. In October 2009 Archaeologists gathered for a conference near a cavern named the Abric Romaní rock shelter, near the village of Capellades in Spain to discuss research carried out on the site since it was discovered 100 years ago to be a site of Neanderthal occupation. The cavern contains numerous hearths, along with artefacts and tools, so recent research has looked at how Neanderthals organised their living space. The hearths are so well preserved they indicate Neanderthals used fire for many reasons, and organised their living quarters accordingly, just like modern humans. Fires can be used for many purposes, e.g. cooking, providing heat and light, heat treating tools and animal skins, repelling insects and predators. Archaeologist Josep Vallverdú and a team of researchers have identified at least six hearth types at the cavern. One type is a small, flat structure close to the rock shelter wall, which the team interprets as sources of light and warmth near sleeping areas. Other larger, more centrally located structures dense with animal bones and stone fragments could be places of cooking and tool use. Lyn Wadley, an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa commented: “Neanderthals were doing pretty much the same things that the so-called moderns are doing; … they used space in an orderly way, although probably not yet in a symbolic way.” Antonio Rosas, a paleoanthropologist at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid agrees and added: “To be Neanderthal is a distinct way of being human. By understanding Neanderthals, we enlarge the meaning of humanity.”

Editorial Comment: We can’t say it any better than Antonio Rosas. This study of Neanderthal living spaces builds on existing studies of Neanderthals to confirm that they were fully human, and there is no basis for considering them another species. All studies of their body structure and their artefacts indicate they were simply human beings surviving as best they could in the harsh conditions of Ice Age Europe. For information of previous studies search for “Neanderthal” in this Fact File

Evidence News, 28 April 2010