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MSNBC/Discovery: “Neanderthals Made Mammoth Jerky”

on June 27, 2009

MSNBC/Discovery: “Neanderthals Made Mammoth Jerky” Neanderthals, though so often treated as subhuman, left a growing amount of evidence to remind us of their humanity.

A new study in the Journal of Archaeology considers what Neanderthal techniques would have helped them survive “the often chilly conditions of Northern Europe.”

Researcher Bent Sorensen of Roskilde University began by considering the body size of Neanderthals (based on skeletal remains) and estimated climate conditions in Europe. He then calculated how much energy would be necessary for settlement, hunting, and sleeping during the cold winters, with the conclusion that fires wouldn’t have been enough for warmth.

Sorensen believes Neanderthals wore tailored clothing.

Sorensen believes Neanderthals wore tailored clothing, such as “one or two layers of skins/furs and wrapped skins/furs for shoes, held together by leather strings.” He believes Neanderthal teeth show signs that they chewed hides to soften them, necessary for making clothes. Other tools associated with Neanderthals, such as hide scrapers and points for making holes in hides, support his hypothesis that Neanderthals were skilled tailors.

Sorensen also calculated that Neanderthal groups would have required some 1,792 pounds (813 kg) of meat per month, or about one mammoth every seven weeks. But because of evidence that Neanderthals went on the proverbial road to hunt, Sorensen wondered how they transported the meat back home.

“Carrying dried meat from a mammoth home could . . . be done by seven to eight round trips [over] 14 to 16 days,” he concluded. If true, that would make Neanderthals the first Europeans to transport meat successfully over long distances (without letting it rot).

With every discovery about Neanderthals, we learn something more about their sophistication. Each report reminds us that—aside from minor anatomical differences (such as a bigger brain, probably)—Neanderthals were just like us, living similarly to many human civilizations of the past few hundred years. Descendants of Adam through Noah, they were merely one group of humans whose genetic traits are largely gone from our world today.

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