Light my fire. Neandertals at Abric Romaní left nearly 200 hearths (inset).


Detailed studies of Neandertal hearths and living quarters suggest that, like modern humans, our extinct cousins had the knack for organization
TARRAGONA AND CAPELLADES, SPAIN—To a passerby, the excited chatter of 100 researchers visiting the Abric Romaní rock shelter must have sounded more like a school trip than a serious scientific expedition. Grown men and women bounded like children up and down the metal steps leading into this huge cliff-side cavern overlooking the village of Capellades, 50 kilometers west of Barcelona. Snapping photos, they darted over wooden planks between blackened hearths looking so fresh that f ires might have burned there just yesterday. The hearths had indeed been freshly excavated by archaeologists just 2 weeks before. But the hearthmakers were Neandertals, who visited the cave about 50,000 years ago. Abric Romaní is a special site: Excavations here have uncovered 14 layers of Neandertal occupation over 20,000 years. Rapid sediment accumulation has led to “nearPompeii-like” preservation of hearths, stone tools, and other artifacts, permitting “exemplary and unusually high-resolution” research into Neandertal lifeways, says archaeologist Lawrence Guy Straus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Last month, Neandertal specialists gathered here to discuss such high-resolution research at a meeting marking the 100th anniversary of Abric Romaní’s discovery.* They explored how Neandertals lived and
*The Neandertal Home: Spatial and Social Behaviors, Tarragona and Capellades, Spain, 6–9 October 2009.

behaved based on detailed studies at individual sites. Although many aspects of Neandertal behavior were discussed, such as their use Around the hearth of stone tools and what they ate—including In his talk, Dibble pointed out that there growing evidence that they sometimes ate were many possible reasons Neandertals each other (see sidebar, p. 1057)—the meet- might have made fires: to provide warmth ing turned repeatedly to how Neandertals and light, roast meat and vegetables, extract used fire and organized their space as the grease from bones, protect from predators, most fine-grained indicators of what they did heat-treat tools, repel insects, process anievery day. Although some archaeologists mal hides, smoke and dry food, and even get have argued that Neandertals were less- rid of accumulated garbage. Although dissophisticated than modern humans in their tinguishing among these uses is difficult, use of space, that view found little sympathy archaeologists blessed with well-preserved in Tarragona. “The papers addressing this sites have been trying to generate clues. issue concluded that Neandertal behaviors At Abric Romaní, a team led by Eudald differed little from those of modern humans,” Carbonell of Rovira i Virgili University says anthropologist Donald NEANDERTAL USE OF SPACE AT TOR FARAJ, JORDAN Henry of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. Bone & Antler Work Hearth Back Wall Some researchers see the Bedding latest research as a turning Butchery Area point in Neandertal studies. Bedding N Final Lithic & Area “We are seeing a fundamental Primary Lithic Plant Food Processing Processing change in how archaeologists are approaching hearths,” says Central Activity Area archaeologist Harold Dibble of Rock Slab Platform Initial–Final the University of PennsylvaLithic Processing nia. “Before the 1980s or 1990s, many were simply conDrip-line Dump tent to note whether or not Rockfall Brush Windbreak there were hearths, but there 0 3m was no other real interest in Edge of Terrace them. Now there are many more questions looming about Getting organized. Like modern humans, Neandertals divided their Neandertal use of fire,” such as living quarters into different task areas, as seen in this cave in Jordan.


20 NOVEMBER 2009

Published by AAAS


Better Homes and Hearths, Neandertal-Style

whether it was used for cooking, warmth, light, or other functions; and whether Neandertals, like modern humans, socialized around the hearth. Many conferences compare the extinct Neandertals and modern humans, but at this meeting modern humans were not much in evidence, except in the audience and on the podium. “We have tended to use the Neandertals as foils,” Straus says. “The Neandertals are now coming into their own.”

to determine the composition of the burnt material and the temperatures to which it was heated. a talk by Henry brought them back to 20 NOVEMBER 2009 1057 Published by AAAS . pitting.” From the spatial arrangement of lithics and other artifacts found on the floors. Henry said. flat structures close to the rock shelter wall—which the team interprets as sources of light and warmth near sleeping areas—and larger.” Nevertheless. Both caves also showed evidence that the hearths were regularly cleaned and raked out.B. fossil plant expert Arlene Rosen of University College London showed that although the remains of date palms and date seed husks clustered around Tor Faraj’s central hearths. Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV two archaeolo. we enlarge the meaning of humanity. Goldberg and Berna identified fragments of bone. and skull. The work is still in its early days. Wadley agrees: “Neandertals were doing pretty much the same things that the so-called moderns were doing. p. scarring.000 years ago. suggesting that meat cut from bone was cooked in the f ires. such as dental hypoplasia. Wadley adds. how well such “moments in time” capture the big picture of Neandertal behavior over longer periods. Modern is as modern does? Although modern humans definitely played second fiddle at the meeting. –M. the remains of grasses were restricted to areas along the rock shelter wall and were likely used for bedding. For example. Many of the more complete bones. But only when he looked at the pattern over several occupation layers did it become clear that the earliest occupants had to search many kilometers away for chert and other stone-tool raw materials. and other signs that the bodies were cut up in the same way that hominins butcher animals—the gold standard for signs of cannibalism.” although he declines to give details until his team’s ongoing study is published. a pattern not seen at Roc de Marsal. Why eat each other? Teeth and bones show evidence. they clustered around a constant center point.NEWSFOCUS (RiV) in Tarragona has found nearly 200 beautifully preserved hearths since 1983. there has been little direct evidence. But few sites have enough complete Neandertal bones to tell for sure. and cave sediments. show cut marks. Tucson. thermoluminescence.” says Dibble. flint. PALEOANTHROPOLOGY GROUP MNCN-CSIC they used space in an orderly way. his team has found 1700 Neandertal bones representing at least 11 children and adults dated to about 49. which could represent activity centers for cooking and tool use. There. But Rosas thinks there might also have been “a ritualistic side to it. the team was able to reconstruct activities on two superimposed “living floors. was probably used as fuel to keep the fire going. an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. paleoanthropologist Antonio Rosas of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid presented the latest evidence from the cave of El Sidrón in northwest Spain. In Tarragona. team has identif ied at least half a dozen hearth types. thus turning the site into a source of raw materials. … SCIENCE VOL 326 Did Neandertals Dine In? Researchers have long debated whether the highly carnivorous Neandertals sometimes ate each other. These include small. The hearths are easily identifiable as black. the thin sections show a signif icant amount of charred fat. more centrally located structures dense with animal bones and lithics. These findings provide high-resolution evidence that “Neandertal groups established and organized their living space around hearths over and over. making stone tools. whereas later occupants were able to use stones discarded by their predecessors.” says Lyn Wadley. deliberate breaking of bones for marrow extraction. Statistical analysis of hearths in six consecutive archaeological levels showed that although their spatial arrangement varied somewhat over thousands of years. plant remains.000 years ago. including those of the arms. “there is very compelling evidence for cannibalism” at Neandertal sites. Thanks again to excellent preservation. In a much-discussed talk about Abric Romaní’s stone tools. he reassembled stone-tool flakes that had been struck from larger stones to recreate the original cores and was able to establish the detailed toolmaking techniques used around hearths in individual occupation levels. And although some claims have not held up. Vaquero pointed out that too narrow a focus can be misleading. in recent years new evidence for this macabre hypothesis has emerged (Science. working with bone and antler. CREDIT: ANTONIO ROSAS. in regular fashion. By understanding Neandertals. gists collaborating with Dibble.000 and 49. At two recently excavated Neandertal sites in southwest France. sleeping. Henry and his colleagues have been working at the Tor Faraj rock shelter in Jordan. Paul Goldberg and Francesco Berna of Boston University. He concluded that when it came to the complex use of space. but some patterns are emerging. although probably not yet in a symbolic way. And at Pech de l’Azé IV.sciencemag. that the El Sidrón Neandertals were stressed and possibly malnourished. Agrees Antonio Rosas. which harbors typical Neandertal tools but no human fossils and is dated to between about 69. can get a huge amount of information” by capturing such “moments in time. wood. “We Eating their own? Cut marks on a Neandertal jaw might be signs of cannibalism. some of the bone had been heated to such a high temperature that it. “This kind of finegrained work provides empirical evidence for human behavior. including infrared spectroscopy. Another high-resolution effort to figure out how Neandertals used fire puts hearths under the microscope both literally and figuratively. echoing a caution raised at the meeting by archaeologist Manuel Vaquero of RiV it is still unclear . legs. the El Sidrón findings are “food for thought. 1 October 1999. rather than wood. Until then. In both caves. says archaeologist Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona. irregularly shaped but sharply outlined ovals on the rock-shelter floor. and x-ray diffraction. At the microscopic level. moderns had little on the Neandertals. 18). At this point. and dumping rubbish.” That makes them worthy of study “for their own sake.” Straus says. For example. where they were probably prepared and eaten. South Africa. According to a talk by archaeologist Josep Vallverdú of RiV the .” –MICHAEL BALTER www. Henry and his co-workers conclude that living areas were well-differentiated into dedicated spaces for butchering animals.” says Lawrence Guy Straus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Although many archaeologists have assumed that Neandertals cooked their food. have been thin-sectioning blocks of material taken from well-preserved hearths and using several techniques. Such spatial patterns mirror those found in modern human occupation sites. a paleoanthropologist at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid: “To be Neandertal is a distinct way of being human.

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