Monday, September 26, 2016

Neanderthals made their own jewelry, new method confirms

Neanderthals are the closest, extinct relatives to modern humans. They are either a species or a sub-species of man who were prevalent before their physical and intellectual development into Homo sapiens. Neanderthals are considered to be the first people to make tools and control fire. A new study shows that Neanderthals made their own jewelry. Archaeologists found bone tools, fossils, and make-shift necklaces in the Grotte du Renne cave in France. Scientists were unable to use DNA to link the Neanderthals to the artifacts, so they used a new method involving proteins to identify the fragments. This method delved into the new and growing field of paleo-proteomics.

Neanderthal fragments found in the Grotte du Renne cave

By examining the proteins, researchers were able to specifically compare the chemical composition of collagen in the artifacts and fossils to the collagen produced by modern people and Neanderthals. Neanderthal collagen contained a different amino acid than modern human collagen. The researchers also sequenced the mitochondrial DNA. Not only did they see that the ancestry was Neanderthal but also they noted that the fragments contained high levels of nitrogen isotopes, associated with breast-feeding. This led the team to conclude that some of the Neanderthals were infants. Through radiocarbon dating, the fragments were able to be chronologically linked with the tools and jewelry found nearby. 

This study demonstrates that Neanderthals had the ability to make their own tools and jewelry, but it also allows for more questions. Modern humans may have possibly had a social and genetic influence on Neanderthals. Through mating and socialization with Homo sapiens, the Neanderthals may have obtained enhanced cognitive abilities. I believe this is a great start to researching if enhanced cognitive skills have a genetic basis. By learning about our past and our history, we can learn more about our present selves and our future. 

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