Neanderthals may have crossed the seas THOUSANDS of years before modern humans, researchers say
- Discoveries of tools dating back 130,000 years are evidence of early sea travel
- Tools were found in Crete, which separated from mainland 5 million years ago
- In recent years, ancient tools have been found in several other islands as well
- Suggests human ancestors had cognitive and technological means for sea travel
Modern humans may not have been the first travelers to cross the seas.
Mounting evidence discovered in recent years suggests Stone Age mariners may have hopped from island to island throughout the Mediterranean more than 130,000 years ago – and, this may even have included Neanderthals.
While it’s long been thought that Bronze Age people were the first to become seafarers, stone tools and bones found throughout Eurasia suggest others had them beat by thousands of years, according to Science magazine.
Mounting evidence discovered in recent years suggests Stone Age mariners may have hopped from island to island throughout the Mediterranean as far back as 130,000 years ago – and, this may even have included Neanderthals (artist’s impression)
The discovery of tools on islands such as Crete has upended the long-held notion that modern humans were the first to venture off land.
Prior to recent archaeological findings, the oldest evidence of purposeful sea travel in the region stood at around 10,000 years old.
While human ancestors are known to have traveled across deep water over a million years ago in Indonesia, and modern humans crossed waters to reach Australia about 65,000 years ago, it’s thought that this may not have been intentional, according to Science.
In 2011, however, archaeologists in Greece announced the discovery of axes and other tools on the south coast of Crete thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old.
But, Crete has been separate from the mainland of Greece for roughly 5 million years.
Researchers at the time said the crude tools could be linked to extinct human ancestors including Homo erectus.
More recently, researchers discovered a vast trove of stone tools near the village of Plakias.
The discovery of tools on islands such as Crete has upended the long-held notion that modern humans were the first to venture off land. Artifacts thought to have belonged to Neanderthals and Paleolithic human ancestors have also been found on Naxos, Kefalonia, and Zakynthos
These tools appear much like Acheulean tools used up until about 130,000 years ago by Homo erectus and Neanderthals, Thomas Strasser of Providence College told Science.
Artifacts thought to have belonged to Neanderthals and Paleolithic human ancestors have also been discovered on the island Naxos, Kefalonia, and Zakynthos.
At a recent meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, archaeologist Alan Simmons explained that ancient human ancestors may have possessed both the cognitive and technological means to venture off land.
But, many are still skeptical of the idea.
In 2011, however, archaeologists in Greece announced the discovery of axes and other tools (right) on Crete thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old. Researchers said the crude tools could be linked to extinct human ancestors including Homo erectus
WHEN DID HUMAN ANCESTORS FIRST EMERGE?
The timeline of human evolution can be traced back millions of years. Experts estimate that the family tree goes as such:
55 million years ago – First primitive primates evolve
15 million years ago – Hominidae (great apes) evolve from the ancestors of the gibbon
8 million years ago – First gorillas evolve. Later, chimp and human lineages diverge
A recreation of a Neanderthal man is pictured
5.5 million years ago – Ardipithecus, early ‘proto-human’ shares traits with chimps and gorillas
4 million years ago – Ape like early humans, the Australopithecines appeared. They had brains no larger than a chimpanzee’s but other more human like features
3.9-2.9 million years ago – Australoipithecus afarensis lived in Africa.
2.7 million years ago – Paranthropus, lived in woods and had massive jaws for chewing
2.3 million years ago – Homo habalis first thought to have appeared in Africa
1.85 million years ago – First ‘modern’ hand emerges
1.8 million years ago – Homo ergaster begins to appear in fossil record
1.6 million years ago – Hand axes become the first major technological innovation
800,000 years ago – Early humans control fire and create hearths. Brain size increases rapidly
400,000 years ago – Neanderthals first begin to appear and spread across Europe and Asia
300,000 to 200,000 years ago – Homo sapiens – modern humans – appear in Africa
50,000 to 40,000 years ago – Modern humans reach Europe
‘The orthodoxy until pretty recently was that you don’t have seafarers until the early Bronze age,’ said archaeologist John Cherry of Brown University, according to Science.
‘Now we are talking about seafaring Neanderthals. It’s a pretty stunning change.’
Given how much the position of the land has changed over the course of Earth’s history, experts say it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where current islands sat thousands of years ago.
But, the growing evidence suggests Neanderthals may been more enticed by the sea than they’ve previously been given credit for.
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