Neanderthals didn’t always live in caves

Neanderthals didn’t always live in caves: Ancient human ancestor lived in the open air in Israel as recently as 54,000 years ago

  • Neanderthal occupied Ein Qashish during the Middle Paleolithic period
  • The site in northern Israel was occupied by neanderthals at four different times 
  • Area was an on-and-off home to them between 71,000 and 54,000 years ago

Nenaderthals are often considered to be cave-dwelling barbarians but new research has found the ancient human ancestor also lived in open-air sites. 

Remains were found of the species at northern Israel site Ein Qashish dating back to the Middle Paleolithic period and spanning to as recently as 54,00 years ago. 

It is more common to find Neanderthal remains in sheltered sites like caves, but researchers have identified skeletal remains and over 12,000 artefacts from the site.  

A team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem say this is evidence the area was an on-and-off home to Neanderthals between 71,000 and 54,000 years ago. 

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 Neanderthals are often considered to be cave-dwelling barbarians but new research has found the ancient human ancestor also lived in open-air sites, a new study suggests 

It is more common to find Neanderthal remains in sheltered sites like caves, but researchers have identified skeletal remains and over 12,000 artefacts from the site 

Sheltered sites like caves were easily recognised and often visited by neanderthals which explains the plethora of evidence proving they lived in them, the scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem say. 

Dating techniques used isotope analysis to determine that the artefacts come from four different times at the same site when conditions varied wildly. 

Animal bones and tools had clearly been modified and, the authors of the study, published in the journal PLOS One claim, is evidence of flinting tools and consuming animals on-site.

Previous theories state open-air settlements were short-lived and only used for very specific tasks in neanderthal life, but the long-term use of  ‘Ein Qashish refutes this.  

Each of the time frames where there is evidence of the neanderthals living there show evidence it hosted a range of general activities, indicating a stable and consistent settlement system. 

The authors suggest that within a complex settlement system, open-air sites may have been more important for prehistoric humans than previously thought.

Dr Raavid Ekshtain, who led the study said: ‘Ein Qashish is a 70-60 thousand years open-air site, with a series of stratified human occupations in a dynamic flood plain environment. 

‘The site stands out in the extensive excavated area and some unique finds for an open-air context, from which we deduce the diversity of human activities on the landscape.

Dating techniques used isotope analysis to determine that the artefacts come from four different times at the same site when conditions varied wildly

Each of the time frames where there is evidence of the neanderthals living there show evidence it hosted a range of general activities, indicating a stable and consistent settlement system

‘In contrast to other known open-air sites, the locality was not used for task-specific activities but rather served time and again as a habitation location. 

‘The stratigraphy, a branch of geology, dates and finds from the site allow a reconstruction of a robust settlement system of the late Neanderthals in northern Israel slightly before their disappearance from the regional record.

This, he said, raised questions about the reasons for their disappearance and about their interactions with contemporaneous modern humans.

Remains were found of the species at northern Israel site Ein Qashish dating back to the Middle Paleolithic period and spanning to as recently as 54,00 years ago

WHO WERE THE NEANDERTHALS?

The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 50,000 years ago.

The species lived in Africa with early humans for hundreds of millennia before moving across to Europe around 500,000 years ago.

They were later joined by humans taking the same journey some time in the past 100,000 years. 

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor –  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.

In recent years though, and especially over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent we’ve been selling Neanderthals short.

A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.

It now seems likely that Neanderthals buried their dead with the concept of an afterlife in mind.

Additionally, their diets and behaviour were surprisingly flexible.

They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently predating the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.

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