Neanderthals stole human technology

Human-like tools were found at a Neanderthal site. But humans didn’t make them. This reveals our designs were stolen by those meddling hominins.


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The Neanderthals were closely related to us. Despite this, they just couldn’t produce technology as good as ours. Until they met us, that is. Once humans arrived in their homeland Neanderthals started making tools a lot like ours. Coincidence? Or maybe Neanderthals stole human technology.

Explaining this technological leap has been a controversial subject for decades. Some even argue it never really happened. The more complex “copied” technology could be an intrusion from more recent human layers.

However, an examination of the complex “Neanderthal” technology has finally honed in on the real answer. And it turns out Neanderthal thievery may be the best explanation.

The Châtelperronian revolution

For hundreds of thousands of years Neanderthals lived alone in Europe. During this time they developed a toolkit that was cutting edge (and produced a pretty good cutting edge, hahahaha).

This tookit was called the Mousterian and its crowning glory was the Levallois technique. This was an inventive way of rapdily producing standardised tools. A rock was carefully shaped beforehand. It was prepared in such a way that a single blow would knock off the desired tool. The really inventive part was that the rock was pre-prepared so that the removal of this tool would set up the next tool. Which could then be instantly removed, setting up the next tool. And so on and so on.

I like to imagine Neanderthals wandering around the landscape, “reloading” their tools with new points from an ammo-core. Neanderthal Call of Duty anyone?

The manufacturing method of one type of stone tool. Each of the removals would count as an artifact

The Levallois technique. Once the flake is removed the core is back at stage 4, ready to be used again

Human-made spears armed with microlithic bladelets. Neanderthals stole this

Human-made spears armed with bladelets. Neanderthals stole this

Meanwhile humans were off developing their own toolkit. This came to be known as the Aurignacian and was thought to be vastly superior to the Mousterian. It turns out that it wasn’t quite that good, but still had a few key advantages over the Neanderthal toolkit. In particular, it frequently employed blades and bladelets. These are very thin tools, longer than they are wide. Whilst that might sound simple, it offers a number of key important advantages. Like having a larger cutting surface and using less raw material.

Neanderthals sometimes made blades, but never bladelets (and humans sometimes made Mouseterian tools too). Still, it must have been quite a shock for both parties when they met each other. Each dominated by an unusual technology.

This shock doesn’t seem to have had too much of an impact on humans. They kept making their Aurignacian tools. However, things began to change amongst the Neanderthals. They began swapping out their Levallois tools for the blades and bladelets the humans made. Before modern humans arrived >50% of tools at a Neanderthal blade site were still Levallois. Afterwards the blades were in the majority. The Neanderthals also adopted a human technique called “retouching”, which was rare in the Mousterian. As the name suggest, this involved “touching up” tools. This kept them sharp so they could keep being used.

The “human” toolkit adopted by the Neanderthals is called the Chatelperronian.

French Neanderthals stole our stuff

How did the Neanderthals get their hands on the human toolkit? The Chatelperronian has been the subject of intense debate.

Maybe the Neanderthals acquired technology made by humans. Perhaps through trade or just outright stole it from our campsites. Yet – apart from our interbreeding – the evidence for interaction between the two species is frustratingly scarce. Even interbreeding may have been relatively rare.

What if the Neanderthals invented it all on their own? They weren’t exactly dumb, despite their reputation. For sure they did independently invent one “human” tool. It was manufactured by Neanderthals before humans arrived. So not everything was traded. However, the timing of the rest of the Chatelperronian is very convinient. It’s all after humans arrived.

Others have “solved” this problem by claiming there’s no problem. The Neanderthals never made the Chatelperronian. Most of the sites were later inhabited by modern humans. What if human technology just got mixed in with the Neanderthal remains underneath. Except this wasn’t the case for all the sites. No Aurignacian humans occupied the site of Quicay, France. Yet there is Chatelperronian stuff there. It can’t all be a later intrusion.

The "modern" tools made by Neanderthals

The “modern” tools made by Neanderthals

Whilst Quincay refutes one idea, it might hold the key to what really happened. Archaeologists examined the Chatelperronian tools from the site, focusing on how they were made. This revealed a curious fact. Whilst the blades and bladelets mimicked the form seen in the Aurignacian, the technique used to produce them was very different.

In fact, these differences can be quantified. The archaeologists noted that a combination of 24 variables went into making the tools. The interplay between these variables produces a highly distinctive “fingerprint” on the manufacture of each tool. And the tools from Quincay lack the human fingerprint. This confirms humans weren’t making the tools.

So it can’t be the case the Neanderthals were trading or stealing these tools from human camps. They were actually making them. And they were making them deliberately. How else to account for the fact a different technique was making the same end product?

This confirms Neanderthals were copying human technology. Of course, more Chatelperronian sites need to be examined to show that this wasn’t just a one off. But the evidence still seems pretty clear cut.

French Neanderthals stole our tools. It’s the worlds first case of copyright infringement.

tl;dr

Human-like tools were found at a Neanderthal site. But humans didn’t make them. This reveals our designs were stolen by those meddling hominins.

References

Bar-Yosef, O. and Bordes, J.G., 2010. Who were the makers of the Châtelperronian culture?.Journal of human evolution, 59(5), pp.586-593.

Delagnes, A., 2000. Blade production during the middle paleolithic in northwestern Europe. InProceedings of 1999 Beijing International Symposium on Paleoanthropology (Vol. 181, p. 181). Acta Anthropologica Sinica Beijing.

Roussel, M., Soressi, M. and Hublin, J.J., 2016. The Châtelperronian conundrum: Blade and bladelet lithic technologies from Quinçay, France.Journal of Human Evolution, 95, pp.13-32.

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19 thoughts on “Neanderthals stole human technology”

  1. Mike says:

    It would be a lot easier to read your article without a bunch of graphics covering the text.

    1. Adam Benton says:

      Is there one in particular giving you trouble?

  2. Derek McComiskey says:

    I’m also having trouble with the “share this article” bar down the left-hand side since you redesigned. Overrides the text on my screen. Anyway – very interesting article.

    1. Adam Benton says:

      Odd, it shouldn’t be appearing if the screen is too narrow. I’ll try and fix it. In the meantime there are arrows to collapse it just under the crown icon

      1. Leo Rivers says:

        In the spirit of fine tuning, the top graphic on my laptop combined with the site header above that can drive all text below the screen. It would be nice if the first sentence, acting as an”abstract” would always join the piece graphic and the site header on the first screen you see. Thanks for being a great sifting digest of these materials.

        1. Adam Benton says:

          That’s a great idea. I’ve added the post excerpt (aka the abstract) as a subtitle on the “billboard” at the top of the page. I hope this meets your requirements.

          Unfortunately I can’t make this a retroactive change, so older posts won’t display it. However, it will appear going forwards. I’ve also added it to the top of this post to give you a feel for what it would look like.

          EDIT: Some of the underlying software has updated and so I’ve had to temporarily disable the excerpt on the billboard.

        2. Adam Benton says:

          Just another reply to let you know that the excerpt in the “billboard” is back up and running. Any feedback would be appreciated.

  3. Ashley Haworth-roberts says:

    As spoken by a YEC (with the unspoken agenda of persuading readers that Neanderthals were ‘fully human’ and lived within the past 5,000 years):
    http://crev.info/2016/04/silly-stories-about-early-man/

    1. Adam Benton says:

      What a complete waste of data. I don’t think there’s a single substantial point in that whole webpage.

  4. Leonard Broz says:

    Adam Benton, you are one of the most ignorant people on the face of the planet. You have been peddling misinformation for years and it’s time for it to end. Please do the responsible thing and shut your blog down and refrain from using a computer for the rest of your life. The Chatelperronian has nothing to do with the Aurignacian. No one knows who invented the Aurignacian. The Mousterian DID feature extensive retouch, and the extra cutting edge afforded by the Aurignacian is more than offset by the low capacity for retouch of Aurignacian bladelets. The Mousterian WAS more efficient, and also much more cognitively demanding. Upper Paleolithic industries are the alow bus of flintknapping. See “Why Levallois” by Metin Eren, or better yet, just film yourself trying to knap some Levallois points so we can all laugh at you.

    Neanderthals never copied a modern human. Modern humans were acculterated in the Levant by Neanderthals, who taught them the Tabun Mousterian. Neanderthals were the first to dry distill birch tar — something modern humans copied from Neanderthals. They were the first to use the lissoir — something modern humans copied. They were the first to use personal ornaments — something modern humans copied. And lets not forget the ultimate copy of them all, the large brain size modern humans inherited from Neanderthals boning their women all the time:

    http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2010/10/26/the-neanderthal-romeo-and-human-juliet-hypothesis/

    I will be amazed, –stunned– if you have the courage to allow this comment. I will take gratification either way knowing that you wet the bed at night just dreaming of Neanderthal superiority.

    1. Adam Benton says:

      That’s a nice narrative you have there. Shame the chronology doesn’t support it.

      After all, humans were had big brains before they interacted with Neanderthals, were using personal ornaments before they interacted with Neanderthals, and so forth. The emergence of these characteristics in Africa thousands of years before any human had even met a Neanderthal shows we can’t have copied it from them.

      The only two on your list you could make a case for is lissoirs and birch tar. The latter of which isn’t even that significant since Birch isn’t native to Africa (although the distantly related African birch is, obviously, but even that is comparatively restricted in its environment). Hard to invent something when the resources aren’t available. When you do examine alternative forms of hafting that would have been available in Africa it’s the same as all the other stuff. Humans were doing it well before they met Neanderthals.

      But of course, this could just make your story even better. What if they were time travelling Neanderthals?

      1. Leonard Broz says:

        >>After all, humans were had big brains before they interacted with Neanderthals,

        Absolutely false. Brain size in homo sapiens does not approach the Neanderthal level until their interaction with (and acculteration by) Neanderthals in the Levant, at Skhul and Qafzeh. The Jebel Irhoud and Dar es Solatane archaic humans are also Neanderthal admixed. 24,000 years after the last Neanderthals walked the Earth, modern human cranial capacity has fallen back nearly to the Heidelbergensis level. The average modern Whife male has a brain size smaller than a with a 4 year old female, such as Devil’s Tower 1 (cranial capacity over 1400cc). Humiliating.

        >>were using personal ornaments before they interacted with Neanderthals,

        Wrong again. The oldest evidence of personal ornaments comes from European Neanderthals in the form of talons.

        >>birch tar wasnt in Africa

        Nice copout. Hafting with other mastics does not compare to birch tar. Other mastics, such as pine resin based mastic, are simply peeled off of a tree and heated with charcoal and wood dust as a binder. Birch tar is actually distilled in a complex process no modern human has yet been able to successfully replicate, because they lack the large, superior brains of their ancestral conquistadors, the Neanderthals.

        1. Leonard Broz says:

          *average white male has a smaller cranial capacity than a 4 year old female Neanderthal child, such as Devil’s Tower 2, who had a cranial capacity of over 1400cc. Humiliating.

        2. Leonard Broz says:

          Forgot to add that there were other trees in Europe historically that modern humans could have obtained pitch from, such as pine. But because birch tar is superior to all other mastics in its physical properties, they had to copy the Neanderthals. Back then the average modern human could probably pull it off because they had more Neanderthal DNA to maintain the knowledge the Neanderthals taught them, but nowadays not even Western scientists, with their pathetic childlike brains, can successfully distill a handful of birch tar. Because they are inferior on a species level. Trash!

        3. Adam Benton says:

          There seems to be a big misunderstanding here. I didn’t say that the earliest examples of these features were found in humans, but that humans obtained these characteristics before they interacted with Neanderthals. Thus the Neanderthals could not have been the source for them in human populations. Early human fossils, like Idaltu, have modern-size brains whilst South African caves preserve evidence of ornamentation before the species left Africa. The earliest currently known examples of these things might come from Neanderthals, but that doesn’t prove your point.

          In fact, I’m not quite convinced your point will hold water given time. Archaeological research has long been Eurocentric, so it’s hard to tell if the early appearance of certain characteristics is truly a real occurrence or the result of research bias. See the Upper Palaeolithic revolution, whose entire existence was simply a by-product of biased research. It will certainly be interesting to see where new discoveries take us.

          Nevertheless, there are some rather interesting old discoveries that aren’t quite in line with your narrative. As well as the aforementioned occurrence of many of these behaviours in Africa; it’s also worth considering encephalisation. Whilst the Neanderthal brain may have been bigger in raw numbers, modern humans are actually more encephalised due to their more gracile body.

          I also s

  5. John Piprani says:

    Hi Adam. Thanks for posting. I have not had any probs with the layout, just the approach.

    It is a complex picture and the copying, or acculturation narrative has a long pedigree. It is embedded in earlier (~1900’s) assumptions about Neanderthal inferiority. This in turn was built upon largely French evidence, as that was where most research had taken place, and interpreted within the simple flake / blade binary model of the time. Blades were seen as ‘us’, and flakes were ‘them’. Neanderthal human remains (~1980) found in association with Chatelperronian artefacts upset this model. To resolve this, the (still inferior) Neanderthals were argued to have been acculturated by incoming Homo sapiens (Paul Mellars’ incredible coincidence argument). This may have been tenable at the time, but if research beyond France is considered it looks like the inferiority assumption is incorrect.

    Damien Flas (2006) looked at another European ‘transitional’ industry, the Lincombian Ranisian Jerzmanowician and saw that blade technology as a Neanderthal innovation based upon stratigraphic, geographic, dating, typological and technological evidence. His stuff is freely available on academia.edu. Also, your use of the the term ‘human’ to describe Homo sapiens and not Homo neanderthalensis seems disingenuous. Surely both categories are simply human types? Joao Zilhao has written about the problems of using the term ‘modern human’ to describe Homo sapiens 40,000 years ago, and then ‘archaic’ to characterise their Neanderthal contemporaries. It creates a past present elision which you also do when you describe ‘our campsites’.

    So that is my threepeneth, an alternative perspective which I hope makes some sense, An interesting and complex subject area, with probably no simple headline grabbing answers (in my opinion 🙂

    1. Adam Benton says:

      It certainly is a complex subject and fascinating topic. We can agree in that. In fact, I’m not sure that we’re necessarily in disagreement here. I don’t think this find indicates Neanderthals were archaic, nor do I refer to them as such (hence why I’m comfortable using the term “modern human” to exclusively refer to Homo sapiens).

      In this case, I think it’s clear we’ve got Neanderthals nabbing human technology. But that doesn’t mean the Neanderthals were innately worse than us. Nor does it mean this is what happened everywhere. In fact, if you’ve got examples of different situations I’d be fascinated to hear them.

      It would certainly be interesting to see Neanderthals copying humans in some regions and vice versa in others.

  6. John Piprani says:

    SUN, JUN 12 AT 2:00 PM, MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM
    Exploring Representations of Neanderthals in Popular Culture
    By: Manchester Museum

    Further to the above comment, this looks like an interesting event. if anyone plans to come over let me know and we can meet before / after. The exhibition itself is pretty well put together. Tickets free but from eventbrite, link below

    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/exploring-representations-of-neanderthals-in-popular-culture-tickets-24837067337?ref=enivtefor001&invite=MTAyMzI1ODcvam9obi5waXByYW5pQHBvc3RncmFkLm1hbmNoZXN0ZXIuYWMudWsvMA%3D%3D&utm_source=eb_email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=inviteformalv2&utm_term=eventpage

    1. Adam Benton says:

      Unfortunately I’m busy that day, but it does seem fascinating. I’ll try and get the word out.

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