A 50,000 year old chain found on the France Neanderthal site

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Document distributed by M-H Moncel / Natural History of Prehistoric Man showing a fragment of agreement discovered on the archaeological site of Abri du Maras in France, taken in digital microscopy

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Legend

Scanning electron micrograph of the chord fragment showed the twisted fibers


A 50,000-year-old piece of string – the oldest ever found – found in a cave in France has cast additional doubt on the idea that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans.

A study published in Scientific Reports found that a tiny three-ply chunk fragment made of bark was spotted on a stone tool recovered from the Maras Vault.

This implies that the Neanderthals understood concepts like pairs, sets and numbers.

Twisted fibers form the basis of clothing, bags, nets and even boats.

The Neanderthals – whose species died about 40,000 years ago – are already known to have made birch bark tar, art and seashell pearls.

They also controlled the fire, lived in shelters, were skilled hunters of large animals, and deliberately buried their dead in graves.

Typically, archaeologists and paleoanthropologists will only find wildlife remains or stone tools at sites like the Maras Shelter. Perishable materials are generally lacking.

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Legend

The stone tool was found in a layer of earth between 52,000 and 41,000 years ago


But a team of researchers from France, the United States, and Spain discovered a piece of rope adhering to the underside of a 60 mm (2.4 inch) long stone tool.

The chord, supposedly made with the inner bark of a conifer, was approximately 6.2 mm long and 0.5 mm wide.

Three groups of fibers were separated and twisted clockwise in an “S-twist”. Once twisted, the strands were twisted counterclockwise in “Z-twist” to form a chord.

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PA Media

Legend

The chord fragment was approximately 6.2mm long and 0.5mm wide


The study – whose main author was Bruce Hardy of Kenyon College in Ohio – concluded that the production of the agreement demonstrated that Neanderthals had a detailed ecological understanding of trees and how to transform them into entirely different functional substances.

Producing the chord also involved a cognitive understanding of numeracy and contextual operational memory, the study found. Indeed, this required simultaneously monitoring several sequential operations.

“Given the ongoing revelations of Neanderthal art and technology, it is difficult to see how we can view Neanderthals as anything other than the cognitive equals of modern humans,” the study found.

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