Neanderthal cord weaver

Archaeology

Contrary to popular belief, Neanderthals were no less technologically advanced than Homo sapiens. An international team, including researchers from the CNRS, have discovered the first evidence of cord making, dating back more than 40,000 years1, on aflint fragment from the prehistoric site of Abri du Maras in the south of France2. Microscopic analysis showed that these remains had been intertwined, proof of their modification by humans. Photographs revealed three bundles of twisted fibres, plied together to create one cord. In addition, spectroscopic analysis revealed that these strands were made of cellulose, probably from coniferous trees. This discovery highlights unexpected cognitive abilities on the part of Neanderthals, who not only had a good understanding of the mathematics involved in winding the fibres, but also a thorough knowledge of tree growth. These results, published on 9 April 2020 in Scientific Reports, represent the oldest known proof of textile and cord technology to date.

The following laboratories contributed to this work: Histoire naturelle de l’Homme préhistorique (CNRS/Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle/Université de Perpignan Via Domitia), De la molécule aux nano-objets : réactivité, interactions et spectroscopies (CNRS/Sorbonne Université), along with the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (ministère de la Culture).

The excavations at the Abri du Maras have in particular benefited from funding from the French Ministry of Culture and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Regional Archaeology Service.

fragment de corde au microscope
Photograph of the cord fragment taken by digital microscopy (the fragment is approximately 6.2 mm long and 0.5 mm wide).
© C2RMF
fibres du fragment de corde vues au microscope électronique
Detail of the cord fragment showing twisted fibres, observed by scanning electron microscopy.
© MNHN

 

  • 1. Neanderthals lived between 350,000 and 28,000 years BC.
  • 2. Archaeological site in southeastern France (Ardèche). The team led by Marie-Hélène Moncel has previously shown that Neanderthals occupied this shelter
Bibliography

Direct evidence of Neanderthal fibre technology and its cognitive and behavioral implications, B. L. Hardy, M.-H. Moncel, C. Kerfant, M. Lebon, L. Bellot-Gurlet & N. Mélard. Scientific Reports, 9 April 2020. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61839-w

Contact

Marie-Hélène Moncel
CNRS researcher
Clara Barrau
CNRS Press Officer