Researchers have re-analyzed elephant bones found in a German cave and say Neanderthals likely cut and butchered them, suggesting Neanderthals were a larger and more mobile group than thought.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST;
If you’re always tired of eating leftovers, feel sorry for the Neanderthals. A new study will give new meaning to killing our giant prehistoric cousins, straight elephants for lunch.
LUTZ KINDLER: These elephants were much, much bigger. They were three times larger than today’s African elephants. So these were really calorie bombs.
JUANA ESTAS, HOST;
Lutz Kindler is a zooarchaeologist in Germany. In a study in the journal Science Advances, his team writes that the food and fat from the murder is similar to what could support 25 people for three months or 100 people per week.
SHAPIRO: His co-director Wil Roebroeks says this has big implications for how Neanderthals lived.
WIL ROEBROEKS: It gives us the insight, either that the huge amounts of food that came from these animals for a long time butchered, and/or that they were working, at least for a time, on a much larger scale than is common for Neanderthals and other early hunters.
SUMMER: Researchers have recovered elephant bones from German mines for decades. They found just patterns in the cut bones, suggesting Neanderthals methodically destroyed their kills, just as your local butcher might butcher a chicken the same way at any time.
ROEBROEKS: Of course, you can only butcher animals – and there’s not much you can do to slaughter them, but they seem to be doing it for the longest time.
SHAPIRO: They also found that the remains were poorly pubescent, and a sign that Neanderthals were hunting rather than fighting cattle.
BRITT STARKOVICH: It’s just really unusual. There are not many natural explanations for why this would happen, which is why these researchers conclude that it was necessary to hunt and unless the bull was mainly males, who often live as solitary individuals. There is no flock. So it’s a little easier to kill them.
SUMMERS: Zooarchaeologist Britt Starkovich was not familiar with the work. He says the Neanderthals reformed their understanding as a small group of wandering hunters. But he allowed the elephant to be killed in order to gather larger groups over several periods.
STARKOVICH: So, OK, cool – Neanderthals chasing elephants. But beyond that, the social and cultural effects, I think, are really, really profound. The idea of hundreds of Neanderthals coming together to exchange ideas and culture and genes and stories is incredibly compelling.
SHAPIRO: And he says the study provides yet more evidence that Neanderthals were more intelligent than is often given credit for.
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