For decades scientists believed Neanderthals developed `modern’ tools and ornaments solely through contact with Homo sapiens. New research from Professor Julien Riel-Salvatore, anthropology, shows these sturdy ancients could adapt, innovate and evolve technology on their own.
Riel-Salvatore’s findings challenge 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.
Homo sapiens is the only hominid species on the planet today, but as recently as 28,000 years ago, we shared our world with groups of hominids – Neanderthals. “Given that species’ longevity of 300,000 years or so,” said Riel-Salvatore, “their sudden disappearance coinciding with the dispersal of modern humans from their African homeland has generated much debate in anthropology.”
A grant from the Center for Faculty Development supported Riel-Salvatore’s research with funding for three students to assist with analyzing archaeological collections including tools from a recently excavated site in Riparo Bombrini, Italy located near the border of Italy and France.
Information collected through the study of these artifacts may help illuminate what contributed to the seemingly sudden disappearance of Neanderthals coinciding with the dispersal of modern human from their African homeland.
Some aspects of the findings so far from Riel-Salvatore’s ongoing research in this area already are in scholarly publications with additional works in progress. The student researchers anticipate delivering their findings during the university’s April 2012 Research and Creative Activities Symposium. And, Crystal Simms, a senior anthropology major, is co-authoring a paper with Riel-Salvatoare on this material that he's presenting at this spring's 77th annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology in Memphis.