Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado, Denver, has challenged a half-century of conventional wisdom maintaining that Neanderthals were thick-skulled, primitive "cavemen" overrun and outcompeted by more advanced modern humans arriving in Europe from Africa, a university release says.
"Basically, I am rehabilitating Neanderthals," Riel-Salvatore says. "They were far more resourceful than we have given them credit for."
Riel-Salvatore identified projectile points, ochre, bone tools, ornaments and possible evidence of fishing and small game hunting at archaeological sites associated with a culture of people knows as the Uluzzian throughout southern Italy.
They emerged in an area geographically separated from modern humans.
"My conclusion is that if the Uluzzian is a Neanderthal culture it suggests that contacts with modern humans are not necessary to explain the origin of this new behavior," Riel-Salvatore says.
"This stands in contrast to the ideas of the past 50 years that Neanderthals had to be acculturated to humans to come up with this technology," he said.
"When we show Neanderthals could innovate on their own it casts them in a new light. It 'humanizes' them if you will."
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