Not the brainless brutes of our imaginations, Neanderthals apparently used advanced hunting techniques to stalk and kill their prey, a new study suggests.
Prehistoric deer bones from about 120,000 years ago show how the animals were killed and what weapons were used. The cut marks – or "hunting lesions" – on the bones of the deer provide the earliest "smoking gun" evidence that such weapons were used, Agence France-Presse reported.
The samples represent "the earliest unambiguous examples" of bones damaged by hunting, according to archaeologist Annemieke Milks, who wrote an article that accompanied the study inNature Ecology and Evolution.
Study authors say the deer were killed by being thrust at with sharp wooden spears at close range, maybe as part of cooperative ambush tactics.
"This suggests that Neanderthals approached animals very closely and thrust, not threw, their spears at the animals, most likely from an underhand angle," study lead author Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, a researcher at Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz, Germany, told AFP.
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"Such a confrontational way of hunting required careful planning and concealment, and close cooperation between individual hunters," she said.
Milks, a professor at University College – London, said the study "demonstrates that Neanderthals hunted prey and sheds light on their hunting strategies, such as the kinds of prey they exploited, whether throwing or thrusting was employed, and in what kinds of habitat they hunted."
Such confrontational ways of hunting require close cooperation between participants, the study said.
The deer bones were found on the shore of Lake Neumark-Nord near present-day Halle, in eastern Germany. Although dug up 20 years ago, new technology has allowed for more detailed analysis of the bones.
Neanderthals are species of ancient humans that first appeared about 300,000 years ago and went extinct about 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals and modern humans are closely related, sharing 99.7 percent of their DNA.
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