March 02, 2006

Neanderthal and modern human hunters from the Southern Caucasus

A new paper in Current Anthropology suggests that Neanderthals were as gifted at hunting as modern humans.

CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 47, Number 1, February 2006

Ahead of the Game
Middle and Upper Palaeolithic Hunting Behaviors in the Southern Caucasus

by Daniel S. Adler, Guy Bar-Oz, Anna Belfer-Cohen, and Ofer Bar-Yosef

Over the past several decades a variety of models have been proposed to explain perceived behavioral and cognitive differences between Neanderthals and modern humans. A key element in many of these models and one often used as a proxy for behavioral "modernity" is the frequency and nature of hunting among Palaeolithic populations. Here new archaeological data from Ortvale Klde, a late Middle–early Upper Palaeolithic rockshelter in the Georgian Republic, are considered, and zooarchaeological methods are applied to the study of faunal acquisition patterns to test whether they changed significantly from the Middle to the Upper Palaeolithic. The analyses demonstrate that Neanderthals and modern humans practiced largely identical hunting tactics and that the two populations were equally and independently capable of acquiring and exploiting critical biogeographical information pertaining to resource availability and animal behavior. Like lithic techno-typological traditions, hunting behaviors are poor proxies for major behavioral differences between Neanderthals and modern humans, a conclusion that has important implications for debates surrounding the Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition and what features constitute "modern" behavior. The proposition is advanced that developments in the social realm of Upper Palaeolithic societies allowed the replacement of Neanderthals in the Caucasus with little temporal or spatial overlap and that this process was widespread beyond traditional topographic and biogeographical barriers to Neanderthal mobility.


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