Neanderthals may have cleared a European forest with fire or tools

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When Neanderthals lived astatine a tract called Neumark-Nord successful Germany, the portion had acold less trees than surrounding areas, suggesting they whitethorn person cleared the wood connected purpose

Humans 15 December 2021

Excavation of a 125,000-year-old archaeological tract  astatine  Neumark-Nord 2 adjacent   Halle, Germany, summertime  2007. The excavation of this circumstantial  water  enactment     site, well-preserved successful  fine-grained h2o  laid deposits, yielded the cut-marked remains of hundreds of ample  mammals, chiefly  horses and bovids, and astir  20,000 chromatic  artefacts.

A lakeside archaeological tract astatine Neumark-Nord successful Germany

Wil Roebroeks, Leiden University

Neanderthals whitethorn person reshaped portion of the European scenery 125,000 years ago, clearing trees to make a much unfastened situation successful which to live. It is the oldest grounds of a hominin having landscape-level effects.

The indications travel from an archaeological tract called Neumark-Nord successful Germany. About 130,000 years ago, large crystal sheets retreated, making Neumark-Nord liveable until the crystal precocious again 115,000 years ago. During that 15,000-year lukewarm spell, Neanderthals moved into the area, possibly attracted by a bid of lakes successful the region.

Neanderthals lived passim Europe for hundreds of thousands of years, truthful it seems apt that they had impacts connected the environment, says Katharine MacDonald astatine Leiden University successful the Netherlands. “We knew that they were effectual hunters, truthful they were intelligibly occupying a niche wherever they could vie with the different carnivores astir rather effectively.”

MacDonald and her colleagues compiled information from the lukewarm play connected the antithetic works taxon preserved astatine the site, arsenic good arsenic charcoal deposits near by fires. Compared with neighbouring sites wherever Neanderthals didn’t live, the squad recovered a alteration successful the histrion cover. While neighbouring areas were densely forested, Neumark-Nord “would person been a batch much airy and open, and astir apt much varied arsenic well”, says MacDonald.

Modern humans person altered landscapes successful akin ways, but the grounds is mostly constricted to the past 50,000 years. “It’s the archetypal lawsuit wherever it’s been shown for Neanderthals,” says MacDonald.

It isn’t wide however this happened. There is simply a highest successful charcoal astir erstwhile Neanderthals arrived, truthful “it’s truly tempting to ideate that that mightiness person been Neanderthals burning the vegetation”, says MacDonald. But she says the dates can’t beryllium resolved precisely enough, truthful it could beryllium that a earthy wildfire opened up the vegetation and Neanderthals arrived successful the aftermath.

We besides cognize that Neanderthals made precocious chromatic tools and that they utilized them to chop wood. “But I don’t cognize that there’s immoderate nonstop grounds for really cutting down a tree,” says MacDonald.

Compared with different Neanderthal sites, Neumark-Nord seems to person been settled comparatively permanently, possibly adjacent each twelvemonth round. Neanderthals aren’t known for doing that, says MacDonald. “They are often seen arsenic being rather mobile, and this is rather an antithetic site.”

It whitethorn beryllium that the unfastened landscape, coupled with the lakes, attracted a batch of ample animals for them to hunt – truthful they had nary request to move, she says.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abj5567

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