According to an analysis of paleoenvironmental and archaeological data from the 125,000-year-old Neanderthal site of Neumark-Nord in Germany, our closest ancient human relatives created and maintained a certain vegetation openness at the site; their activities included hunting and game processing, lighting fires, collecting flint and other rocks for their stone technology, and gathering wood for fuel and for making tools like spears and digging sticks, and possibly for building structures; repetitive lighting of campfires around the lakes as well as other small-scale burning activities and the hunting of game animals may, over time, have reshaped vegetation structure and ecological communities, in ways that, over multiple generations, increased the food resources available.
“Archaeologists have long been asking questions about the character and temporal depth of human intervention in our planet’s ecosystems,” said Professor Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University.
“We are increasingly seeing very early, generally weak signs of this.”
“Among other things, we found the remains of hundreds of slaughtered animals, surrounded by numerous stone tools and a huge amount of charcoal remains.”
Professor Roebroeks found abundant traces of Neanderthal activities at the Neumark-Nord site, which is located about 10 km south of the German city of Halle.
“Among other things, we found the remains of hundreds of slaughtered animals, surrounded by numerous stone tools and a huge amount of charcoal remains,” Professor Roebroeks said.
“The traces were found in what 125,000 years ago was a forest area where not only prey such as horses, deer and cattle, but also elephants, lions and hyenas lived.”
“This mixed deciduous forest stretched from the Netherlands to Poland. In several places in the area were lakes, and on the edges of some of these, traces of Neanderthals have been found.”
At the point in time when these Neanderthals turned up there, the closed forest made way for large open spaces, in part due to fires.
“The question is, of course, whether it became open because of the arrival of hominins, or whether hominins came because it was open?” Professor Roebroeks said.
“However, we have found sufficient evidence to conclude that hunter-gatherers kept the area open for at least 2,000 years.”
The researchers found that at similar lakes in the area, where the same animals roamed, but where there are no traces of Neanderthals, the dense forest vegetation remained largely intact.
“Hunter-gatherers weren’t simply primal hippies who roamed the landscape picking fruit here and hunting animals there,” Professor Roebroeks said.
“Until now it was generally thought that it was only when humans took up agriculture about 10,000 years ago that they began to shape their environment, for instance by cutting down trees to create fields.”
“But many archaeologists believe it started much sooner, on a smaller scale, and Neumark-Nord is the earliest example of such intervention.”
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.
Wil Roebroeks et al. 2021. Landscape modification by Last Interglacial Neanderthals. Science Advances 7 (51); doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abj5567
Source link: https://www.sci.news/archaeology/neanderthal-landscapes-10386.html