The discovery suggests that fiber technology is much more ancient than previously thought and that the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals were much more advanced than previously thought.
An international team of scientists, led by researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris, discovered evidence of “Neanderthal Fibre Technology” (textile cord making) dating back approximately 50,000 years ago, in a flint fragment of the Neanderthal site at Abri du Maras in southern France.
According to experts, Neanderthals occupied the site in various phases between 90,0000 and 40,000 years ago. Evidence suggests the site was a hunting ground, and Neanderthals most likely traveled there to hunt deer.
“The site is really rich with a high degree of preservation, with fire places, tools, bones,” said Marie-Hélène Moncel, an archaeologist and director of research at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and author of the study.
“We found many tools on the living floors left by Neanderthals among bones of reindeer. On one of these tools, there was a micro-residue of vegetal fibers, twisted, Dr. Moncel added.
Evidence of twisting is the key to fiber technology, which suggests that complex artifacts were made at the site. This changes a lot in our understanding of Neanderthals.
In the scientific community, Neanderthals are often viewed as less technologically advanced than modern humans. However, archaeological excavations typically only encounter faunal remains or stone tools at Paleolithic sites. Perishable materials, containing the vast majority of material culture items, are usually missing. Individual twisted fibers on stone tools from the Abri du Maras led to the theory of Neanderthal string making in the past, but convincing evidence was lacking. That is, until now.
(The Abri du Maras is located in a valley near the Ardèche River, a tributary of the Rhône River in present-day France)
Researchers have now discovered direct evidence of “Neanderthals fiber technology” on a stone tool recovered in situ from the same site. As revealed in a new study published in Scientific Reports, twisted fibers provide the basis for clothing, rope, bags, nets, mats, and boats, among other things. Once discovered, these objects would surely have become an indispensable part of daily life for ancient people.
However, as revealed by experts, understanding the use of twisted fibers suggests the use of complex, multi-component technology as well as a mathematical understanding of pairs, sets, and numbers. In other words, evidence gathered in recent years suggests, contrary to popular belief, that Neanderthals were, in fact, much more developed. This theory is backed up not only by the recent discovery of Neanderthal Fibre Technology, but also by the discovery of birch bark tar, art, and shell beads, all of which contradict the idea that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans.
Microscopic analysis revealed that these remains had been intertwined, proof of their modification by humans. The photographs revealed three bundles of twisted fibers, tied together to create a cord. Furthermore, the spectroscopic analysis revealed that these strands were made of cellulose, probably from coniferous trees.
This discovery highlights unexpected cognitive abilities on the part of Neanderthals, who had not only a good understanding of the mathematics involved in fiber winding, but also a deep understanding of tree growth. These results, published in the journal ‘Scientific Reports,’ represent the oldest known evidence of textile and lace technology to date.