Neanderthals may have once been considered simple-minded brutes a long time ago, but ongoing research has changed this view significantly with evidence that they buried loved ones and wore decorative jewelry, and a new study has now revealed that Neanderthals were also almost certainly precision workers just like we are today.
With new research on the hands and arm bones of Neanderthals, scientists have learned that rather than simply use force to perform tasks, Neanderthals were well and truly capable of precision grips, similar to us. As Phys.org reports, the new study examined marks that had been left behind on the muscle attachments of Neanderthals, with a particular focus on their thumbs and fingers.
Frequent use of our muscles throughout life results in strain and scientists compared modern scans of these strains with those that were found on Neanderthals. Interestingly, the kinds of injuries that Neanderthals suffered from were remarkably similar to those that rodeo riders suffer from today. Scientists speculate that these injuries are most likely the direct result of close-quarters spearing while hunting.
The skeletal remains of Neanderthals were studied alongside skeletal data of 50 modern people that fell into two different groups. One of these groups consisted of individuals who spent their lives performing tasks that relied on precision and power grips, such as those who worked in the fields of carpentry and bricklaying. The second modern group that was examined were not involved in serious manual labor and were shoemakers, tailors, painters, and writers.
Brutes? Neanderthals were as nimble as us https://t.co/ScquhMDNF6— The Conversation (@ConversationUK) September 28, 2018
Once the remains of six Neanderthals were compared with the group of manual laborers today, scientists found that Neanderthals most closely matched this group of precision workers. However, out of the modern human samples that were studied, only three specifically fit into this same group. As researchers note, the biggest surprise to come out of the study is not that Neanderthals had a precision grip or that they performed tasks that they needed manual dexterity for, but that anyone should ever have doubted this was the case, to begin with.
After all, using the Neanderthal’s Levalloisian lithic technology would have required the cognitive skills to have designed their tools along with the dexterity to actually act on their designs and create them. With so many studies over the past decades showing that Neanderthals were actually quite sophisticated on many levels, it only makes sense that they would have suffered from injuries relating to their precision work.
The new study that reveals that Neanderthals were precision workers has been published in Science Advances.