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Neanderthals Not as Primitive as Once Thought

The cracked skull of a Neanderthal provides the first scientific evidence that these early humans used tools to fight each other—and took care of one another as well.

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Neanderthals might have put tools like these to use as weapons

The young Neanderthal male who lived about 36,000 years ago in what is now southern France was once the victim of someone else’s rage. He was attacked with a sharp instrument that put a hole in his skull.

The skull was crushed but later healed.

Researchers say that fact adds to the body of evidence that Neanderthals, once thought to be grunting, shuffling cave-dwellers, were actually much more complex than previously thought. These early humans nursed their sick and had strong social ties, in addition to losing their tempers.

"All social mammals squabble," said Erik Trinkhaus, Neanderthal expert at Washington University in St. Louis, in an interview with Reuters, "The one lesson that we have is that the stakes increase markedly when you have serious weaponry available."

Christopher Zollikofer of the University of Zürich headed the study and published the results in Tuesday’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The skeleton in question was found years ago but this latest discovery was made using newer techniques such as CT scans.

Zollikofer said the skull's bony scar is direct evidence of a sharp implement being used against the male. But, the victim survived his injury for at least several months.

"It’s another piece of evidence that in the light of serious injury or other serious kinds of problems, these people were taking care of each other," said Washington University's Trinkhaus.

More Advanced Than Other Pre-Humans

Neanderthals were a race of pre-humans who inhabited Europe, the Near East, Central Asia and possibly Siberia. Their earliest fossil remains have been found in Europe and are more than 200,000 years old.

They roamed as hunters and gatherers over plains, forests and mountains for tens of thousands of years. They fabricated tools and even jewellery out of bone. They are also known to have placed flowers and objects of art in graves.

The find sets Neanderthals further apart from other non-human primates, which quarrel and fight with each other, but always do so with their bare hands or feet or with their teeth.

They are not direct ancestors of early modern humans, called Cro-Magnons, but lived side-by-side with them for at least ten thousand years, before suddenly disappearing. Researchers still are not certain why.

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