Neanderthals Give New Meaning to 'Clean Up Your Room'

They led tidy lives in their caves, archaeologists say. At least the Italian ones did.

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Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Maybe your kids don't have Neanderthal genes after all: new findings indicate this alternative homo species kept a tidy cave, and confined messy activities such as cooking and tool-making to specific niches. Butchering animals they hunted was also kept separate, say archaeologists from the University of Colorado.

Organized use of space had been assumed to be a human prerogative, says Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver. "But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere, but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space," he said in a statement.

Excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter on the northwest Italian coast, found distinct patterns in the detritus left by Neanderthals living there for thousands of years. The primitive men seem to have lived mainly in the cave center, while evidence of fire was confined to the back of the cave – conveniently warming the internal space.

Evidence of tool-making was found nearer the cave mouth, which makes sense – dodging flying shrapnel as flint was chipped is no way to live life, says the paper published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology. Also, the tool-makers may have found it convenient to see what they were doing, rather than chip away in the dim reaches of the cave.

It bears mention that other archaeologists studying Neanderthal remains noticed no similar spatial organization. Absence does not prove omission, but it could be that the cavemen of ancient Italy had advanced in a new direction.

The sense of order adds to other evidence pointing to primitive men being very far from the brutes that had been commonly assumed. Earlier this year Israeli archaeologists uncovered evidence strongly indicating that early humans occupying caves on the Carmel not only ceremoniously buried their dead, but held wakes for them.

As for your kids, not to mention yourself, do we have Neanderthal genes, or not? There is no consensus, though many scientists believe there was at least some interbreeding. Sensational stories of Neanderthal-human love-child and certain genetic markers argue in favor of the theory but there's no solid proof.

A reenactment of prehistoric life in Nahal Me'arot caves - done before it became clear that primitive man was cave-proud.Credit: Doron Nissim
Reconstruction of Neanderthals at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany.Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The entrance to the Natufian-era burial cave.Credit: Dani Nadel

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