Study: Just Like Homo sapiens, Neanderthals Organized Their Living Space in Structured Way

Because it is often assumed that fundamental behavioral differences distinguish Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, the ability to structure space within the sites they occupied into distinct activity areas is often invoked as a key distinctive trait of our species. However, this behavior has never been assessed for both groups at a single site, hindering direct comparisons to date. To help resolve this question, archaeologists from the Université de Montréal and the University of Genoa evaluated the spatial organization in the Protoaurignacian levels (associated with Homo sapiens) and the latest Mousterian levels (associated with Neanderthals) at Riparo Bombrini in Liguria, Italy.

By mapping the distribution of stone tools, animal bones, ochre, and marine shells across the surface of the site of Riparo Bombrini, the researchers were able to produce clear and interpretable models of the site’s spatial patterns, identifying distinct clusters of artifacts and materials to infer the behavioral significance of the different groups that lived and worked there.

“This homogeneity in spatial distribution hinted at an underlying structure in how these ancient humans utilized the space,” said Amélie Vallerand, a doctoral student at the Université de Montréal.

“By tallying the number of contiguous units of the same type of clusters, we could discern patterns to help us identify the activities carried out by these groups.”

“Applying quantitative and statistical methods allowed us to significantly reduce bias, and to provide compelling evidence that goes beyond qualitative descriptions of the spatial organization.”

Combining these spatial analyses with studies of lithic technology, faunal remains and marine shells, the scientists were able to paint a comprehensive picture of the behavioral similarities and differences between these ancient populations.

Both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens exhibited a structured use of space, organizing their living areas into distinct high and low-intensity activity zones.

This suggests a shared cognitive capacity for spatial organization.

The central tendencies of occupation for both groups were established through thousands of years of reoccupation: the recurring position of the site’s inner hearths and a refuse pit persisting across levels highlights the continuity of the layout.

The organization of all three levels was conditioned by land-use and mobility strategies: they articulate around variations in occupation duration, reoccupation intervals, number of occupants, and nature of activities undertaken. Hence, planning and organization were key.

Neanderthal occupations showed a lower intensity pattern compared to those of Homo sapiens : artifact densities were lower-deposit and fewer clusters were identified.

There are distinct distributions pattern and use of space for each of the levels: Neanderthals used Riparo Bombrini sporadically as part of a high mobility system in the context of rapid climatic change, while Homo sapiens alternated between short-term and long-term base camps to adjust to their new territory.

The Neanderthal-to-Homo sapiens transition in the Liguria region was characterized by the rapid succession of the Late Mousterian (Neanderthal) to the Protoaurignacian (Homo sapiens) techno-complex, with no contacts observed between the two species.

This new study underscores the significance of directly comparing the spatial behavior of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens within the same site, using consistent parameters, to minimize analytical bias.

“There’s an underlying logic to how the space was used, regardless of which species was present at the time,” the authors said.

“Like Homo sapiens, Neanderthals organized their living space in a structured way, according to the different tasks that took place there and to their needs,” Vallerand said.

“So this is yet another study indicating that Neanderthals were more ‘human’ than is generally assumed.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *