Scientists discover ancient yarn made by Neanderthals at least 40,000 years ago

Scientists discover ancient yarn made by Neanderthals at least 40,000 years ago

Scientists have discovered what they believe to be the first direct evidence of yarn making, dating back more than 40,000 years.

The 6mm-long cord fragment, which as found at an archaeological site in Abri du Maras in the south of France, was made by Neanderthals who lived during the Middle Palaeolithic period, 30,000 to 300,000 years ago.

According to the researchers, the findings published in the journal Scientific Reports suggest Neanderthals would have needed basic numeracy skills to create bundles of fibres to make yarn, meaning their cognitive abilities may have been more advanced than previously thought.

An international team, led by Bruce Hardy, a professor of anthropology at Kenyon College in Ohio, US, analysed the cord fragment which was found twisted in three small bundles wrapped around a 60mm long stone tool.

The Abri du Maras archaeological site in the south of France (M-H Moncel/Histoire Naturelle de l’Homme Prehistorique)
The Abri du Maras archaeological site in the south of France (M-H Moncel/Histoire Naturelle de l’Homme Prehistorique)

The scientists believe the cord may have been used as a handle for the tool or was part of a net or bag containing the implement.

Microscopic analysis showed that the fibres had been intertwined to create a three-ply cord, a feat that the authors believe would required Neanderthals to have an understanding of basic mathematical concepts.

Further analysis revealed the strands were made of fibres taken from the inner bark of a conifer, indicating these hominids would have required “extensive knowledge of the growth and seasonality of these trees”.

Researchers believe the cord, dated between 41,000–52,000 years ago, is the oldest known proof of textile and fibre technology to date.

The idea that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans is becoming increasingly untenable

They speculate this technology would have enabled Neanderthals to make items such as bags, mats, nets, fabric, baskets and snares.

The authors wrote in their paper: “Understanding and use of twisted fibres implies the use of complex multi-component technology as well as a mathematical understanding of pairs, sets, and numbers.

“Added to recent evidence of birch bark tar, art, and shell beads, the idea that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans is becoming increasingly untenable.”

Prior to this finding, the oldest discovered fibre fragments were from the Ohalo II site in Israel, believed to be around 19,000 years old.


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