I *Heart* Neandertals Part 1


I’m numbering this post because I’m absolutely sure this will be just the first of many posts about Neandertals. I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT THEM! Seriously.

I’m so excited about this new article and not just because the actual peer-reviewed journal title “An interesting rock from Krapina” made me laugh, but because I love rocks. This should not come as a surprise – many kids collect rocks and a few of us go on to study them.

Simply, as has been widely reported on, Neandertals may have been early rock collectors. Now this isn’t even really something new from the perspective of hominin (human and their ancestors) evolution. Oversimplifying a little, archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists have evidence from many sites that many early tool producing/using species selected rocks for their unique and particular qualities and then transported the preferred rocks to a specific location for use. Heck, even nut-cracking monkeys are known to have preference for particular types, sizes, and shapes of rocks (and I believe otters too right?!) so again preferential selection of toolstones is not even a hominin thing.

How do we establish “collection” versus selection? This is an important question because rocks are useful, abundant, widely available resources. What makes this particular rock different is that:

  1.  It was minimally modified, though the modification is not attributed to the Neandertals;
  2. It is unique; it is the only specimen of its kind out of over a thousand other rocks collected from the site. This context is important because other toolstones are present but none have the same visual characteristics of this particular rock; and so
  3. It is very interesting visually – it has branching forms, which caught the attention not just of the researchers but the person(s) who excavated it and the Neandertals who brought it to the site.

Importantly the elaborate natural design of the rock is just something else to add to the increasingly growing body of evidence that argues Neandertals were creative and curious. These are hallmarks of modern human behaviour, of modern human cognition. Neandertals were us…or at least close enough that some of us would “swipe right”.