A Moment of Science

Neanderthals Were Sophisticated… Who Knew?

According to new research, Neanderthals likely took to the seas long before modern humans.

neanderthal wood sculpture

Photo: Angela Marie (Flickr)

This guy was most likely a ocean voyager.

We modern humans tend to look down on our ancient Neanderthal cousins. In our imagination, Neanderthals were brutish, cave dwelling lunks who couldn’t hack it once we left Africa and set up shop in Neanderthal territory in Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

But Neanderthals were more sophisticated than we tend to give them credit for. They had sophisticated tools and almost certainly had some form of spoken language. And, according to new research, Neanderthals likely took to the seas long before modern humans.

Wandering The Ocean

Archaeologists have found Neanderthal tools dating from around 100,000 years ago on the Greek islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos. If Neanderthals were on those islands, scientists reason, they must have gotten there by boat.

Now, it’s possible that long ago those islands weren’t islands, or that sea levels were low enough that Neanderthals could have crossed over to the islands by walking or even swimming. But scientists have shown that the Mediterranean sea was at least 590 feet deep when Neanderthals lived in what’s now modern Greece.

Plus, scientists have found pre-historic tools on the island of Crete that predate even Neanderthals. So it seems that even more ancient proto-human species knew how to sail.

Modern Humans

In any case, although it’s impossible to know for sure, it seems likely that Neanderthals were sailors long before modern humans built their first sea faring vessels.

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