Pits with burnt animal bones and flints

Possible burial

Pits with burnt animal bones and flints

Figure 8.6 ► The Neanderthal "cemetery" at La Ferrassie. North is at the top of the figure. Not to scale. Adapted from Jordan, 1999.

Some have suggested likely cannibalistic bahavior associated with some Neanderthal remains. While there is some evidence of defleshing in specimens from Moula-Guercy in France (Defleur et al., 1999; B.A. Wood & Richmond, 2000), this in itself is not evidence of cannibalism, for some burial rituals in the recent past also involved defleshing but not cannibalism. This is especially true when such burials are associated with secondary burial practices (T.D. White, 1992). The often-quoted ritual sacrifice and/or cannibalistic behavior as suggested by the damage at the base of the Neanderthal skull from Grotta Guattari (which was also thought to have been placed within a ring of stones) has more recently been interpreted as the result of hyena damage and taphonomic process rather than the result of human action (Stiner, 1991, 1994). There is increasing evidence, however for cannibalistic behavior at Krapina (Croatia) because much of the Neanderthal material is burnt, with long bones being smashed open at marrow-rich points and the base of the skulls enlarged, suggestive of removing the brain — though again we cannot completely discount postmortem defleshing or nonhuman activity (Gamble, 1986; Jordan, 1999) (Figure 8.7).

Even given the lack of evidence relating to grave goods associated with Neanderthal burials, clearly there is some form of symbolic behavior tied to the act of burying the dead. The burials cannot merely be seen as a way that Neanderthals disposed of the dead — if so, there are far easier and less labor-intensive ways of doing so. The act of burial is most likely

Figure 8.7 ► One of the Krapina Neanderthal specimens from Croatia, with defined cut marks on the skull. We, as many, believe that this does not necessarily equate with cannibalism but, rather, likely represents part of a postmortem burial practice.

Figure 8.7 ► One of the Krapina Neanderthal specimens from Croatia, with defined cut marks on the skull. We, as many, believe that this does not necessarily equate with cannibalism but, rather, likely represents part of a postmortem burial practice.

associated with some form of emotional attachment to the individual by members of the group and a recognition of their importance and status. The act of burial is symbolic of their loss.

And how long did they live? There are two individuals dubbed "old men" — Shanidar 1 and La Chapelle-aux-Saints. Trinkaus doubts that they really were "old" and puts them in their late 30s; only to La Ferrassie 1 does he attribute an age definitely greater than 40. Yet we wonder if this was right. Among mammals, potential longevity is strongly correlated with brain size — and because Neanderthal brain size was of the same order as that of modern humans (even a little larger), there is some theoretical reason to expect that they could have reached ages of 70 or 80, as we do. Aging adult skeletons is problematic; perhaps "impossible" would be a better word (Bocquet-Appel & Masset, 1982). All one can say is that breakdowns of functioning parts accumulate with increasing age. The "old man" of La Chapelle was riddled with arthritis; even La Ferrassie 1 had a touch of it (Cave & Straus, 1957). High infant mortality pulls down mean life expectancy; even in modern populations whose mean life expectancy is, say, 35, there are still plenty of dotards in their 80s. To us, everything seems to point to a similar pattern for the Neanderthals.

As we have already observed in the study of Neanderthal anatomy, genetics, and material culture, Neanderthals are distinctive not only from their predecessors but also from modern humans (also see next chapter). This also applies to patterns of land use: They appear to have developed a "Neanderthal niche" distinct from all other hominins.

Land use patterns by Neanderthals are becoming increasingly well documented. While the sample from western Asia is not large enough to make any definitive conclusions, the numerous documented occupation sites in France and Spain enable us to make some general statements, which probably applied to Neanderthal populations in general (see R. White, 1983; Gamble, 1986, 1999; Stiner, 1991, 1994; Mellars, 1996). The current synthesis of Neanderthal land use patterns is that (1) cave and rock shelter sites, in southwestern France at least, share several topographic and environmental features, including well-sheltered locations in positions offering extensive and wide-ranging views over adjacent valley habitats (and these valley habitats were ecologically diverse), and almost all have easy access to abundant and high-quality raw materials; (2) these sites are located in such a fashion as to serve as central places from which diverse economic and technical activities could be conducted (see Stiner, 1991, 1994; Mellars, 1996).

As far as open-air sites are concerned, the consensus seems to be that the majority of the richer ones are predominately on higher and more exposed locations, usually on major plateaus. They are also commonly close to active springs, lakes, or streams. Whether these sites represent substantial periods of ongoing occupation by large groups or longer-term revisiting over short periods by smaller groups remains debatable (Mellars, 1996). Turq (1989, 1992), however, has demonstrated that lithic artifacts excavated from caves or rock shelters in southwestern France are made from purely local raw materials in 78% of cases, while in open-air sites, local raw material accounts for 94% of the material used. This suggests that most occupations at open-air sites within this region were restricted either to very brief periods of time or to the exploitation of foods and other resources within a short distance from the sites (Mellars, 1996:268).

There is little doubt that Neanderthals knew their environment intimately and that they organized their lives around the changing seasons, which required knowledge of herd patterns and complex hunting and gathering strategies. It is also increasingly clear that they did not flinch from taking on mammoths, bison, and possibly even cave bears, with nothing more than spears and clubs. A spear with a fire-hardened tip, dating to around 130,000 years ago, was recently excavated from a site in Germany. Perhaps what is even more interesting is that it was found lodged between the ribs of a mammoth. There is also clear evidence for mass slaughter, as documented at La Cotte de St. Brelade, Jersey, where large mammals appear to have been stampeded over the edge of the cliffs and then subsequently butchered and dragged into the cave (Gamble, 1999; Jordan, 1999).

As well as being competent hunters of large, medium, and small game, Neanderthals turned to foraging strategies using coastal caves and aquatic resources, including shellfish and tortoises. There is also evidence that in some cases, they scavenged animal carcasses from other predators (Stiner, 1994). The major difference in habitat exploitation between Neanderthals and modern humans is not so much in the types of food that were consumed, but in the way they gathered these resources (different hunting strategies) as well as the animal body parts consumed. For example, Stiner (1991, 1994), in her study of Neanderthal sites in Italy, has concluded that Neanderthals focused on younger individuals within animal groups when hunting, and fau-nal remains tend to be dominated by head parts, or they contain more or less balanced frequencies of head and limb bones. Head-dominated assemblages are also biased toward old-aged prey, while those containing more fleshy parts have a tendency to represent a broader age sample, reflecting more closely extant herd structures. A similar pattern of faunal assemblage has emerged from the French site at Combe Grenal, which has a long occupation sequence, over 70,000 years. A large number of horses' heads have been recovered, which yield little meat. Conversely, young or sickly reindeer are also common, and the more fleshy upper leg parts dominate the assemblage.

Neanderthals are also thought to have relied more on scavenging behavior at specific times; so hunting and scavenging resources were not pooled together, but occupy distinct phases of occupation, or at different sites, a behavior that is different from that observed in modern humans (Stiner, 1994). In addition, those sites considered to be scavenging sites, which are dominated by low-yielding meaty parts, such as heads, are also said to have flints that have been subjected to more retouch and are often heavier in weight, which would be required to help process the scavenged material. These lithic artefacts would also be required to help process the plant food that was undoubtedly needed to supplement the meager meat ration from these occupation sites (see Stiner, 1994; Jordan, 1999).

Stiner (1994) also argued that the Mousterian differs from the upper Paleolithic in the geographic scale of habitat exploitation and that while both Neanderthal and modern early humans were mobile groups, the Neanderthals appear to have been differentiated by their responses to resource opportunities, which were governed more by local or immediate exigencies (Stiner, 1994). As such, the major difference between H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens is not so much the development of a new behavioral repertoire, but a shift in emphasis of existing universal hominid behavior (see also Cameron, 1993a; Cameron & Groves, 1993).

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