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Bones from French cave show Neanderthals, Cro-Magnon hunted same prey

A 50,000-year record of mammals consumed by early humans in southwestern France indicates there was no major difference in the prey hunted by Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, according to a new study.

The paper, published in the online Journal of Archaeological Science, counters the idea proposed by some scientists that Cro-Magnon, who were physically similar to modern man, supplanted Neanderthals because they were more skilled hunters as a result of some evolutionary physical or mental advantage.

"This study suggests Cro-Magnon were not superior in getting food from the landscape," said lead author Donald Grayson, a University of Washington professor of archaeology. "We could detect no difference in diet, the animals they were hunting and the way they were hunting across this period of time, aside from those caused by climate change.

"So the takeover by Cro-Magnon does not seem to be related to hunting capability. There is no significant difference in large mammal use from Neanderthals to Cro-Magnon in this part of the world. The idea that Neanderthals were big, dumb brutes is hard for some people to drop. Cro-Magnon created the first cave art, but late Neanderthals made body ornaments, so the depth of cognitive difference between the two just is not clear."

The study also resurrects a nearly 50-year-old theory first proposed by Finnish paleontologist Bjrn Kurtn that modern humans played a role in the extinction of giant cave bears in Europe. Cro-Magnon may have been the original "apartment hunters" and displaced the bears by competing with them for the same caves the animals used for winter den sites.

Grayson and his colleague, Francoise Delpech, a French paleontologist at the Institut de Prehistoire et de Geologie du Quanternaire at the University of Bordeaux, examined the fossil record left in Grotte XVI, a cave above the Ceou River, near its confluence with the Dordogne River. The cave has a rich, dated archaeolo
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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
22-Sep-2003


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