Ancient String Adds to Evidence of Early Human Relative’s Abilities

16 April 2020

Scientists say Neanderthals used plant fibers to create string more 40,000 years ago. The string was discovered in France in an area where Neanderthals once hunted animals for food.

The scientists said the discovery adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating the mental abilities of our closest extinct human relatives.

A report on the discovery appears this month in the publication Scientific Reports.

Hyperrealistic face of a Neanderthal male is displayed in a cave in the Neanderthal Museum in the northern Croatian town of Krapina February 25, 2010.
Hyperrealistic face of a Neanderthal male is displayed in a cave in the Neanderthal Museum in the northern Croatian town of Krapina February 25, 2010.

The report describes a string made from three small pieces of plant fiber. The materials were tied together into what looks almost like a very thin rope. The researchers suspect it was likely part of a stone cutting tool that the Neanderthals may have used to remove skin from dead animals.

The string was found 50 kilometers north of Avignon in southeastern France. It is thought to be between 42,000 and 52,000 years old. Around that time, early humans apparently hunted reindeer there during seasonal migrations.

The string represents the latest evidence to dispute the widely held belief that Neanderthals were much less intelligent than modern humans, or Homo sapiens. The oldest sign of string-making by Homo sapiens dates to 19,000 years ago. It was found in Israel.

"The cord, as well as fiber technology in general, is an example of an infinite use of infinite means," said Bruce Hardy, the lead author of the report. He is an anthropologist at Kenyon College in the American state of Ohio.

Hardy added that strings and rope can be used in many ways, including tool making, as well as carrying things and capturing animals.

"Fiber technology in general is foundational in our society - from strings and ropes to tie things together, clothing, and even twisted wires used as cables ... in ... modern buildings," Hardy said. He spoke to the Reuters news agency.

The six-millimeter-long string seems to have been made from fibers from a conifer tree. It may have been used to tie a six-centimeter-long and four-centimeter-wide stone cutting tool to a handle. It may also have been part of a net or container that ended up under the tool.

Other studies have shown that Neanderthals used complex group hunting methods. They also may have used spoken language, used color pigments for body painting, and may have buried their dead with flowers. They disappeared a few thousand years after Homo sapiens moved through Neanderthals' Eurasian homelands around 40,000 years ago.

I'm Pete Musto.

Will Dunham reported on this story for the Reuters news agency. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

stringn. a long, thin piece of twisted thread that you use to attach things, tie things together, or hang things

extinctadj. no longer existing

migration(s) – n. the act of moving from one area to another at different times of the year

cordn. a long, thin material that is usually thicker than a string but thinner than a rope

infiniteadj. having no limits

authorn. a person who has written something

foundationaladj. of, relating to, or forming or serving as a base or foundation

handlen. a part of something that is designed to be held by your hand

pigment(s) – n. a natural substance that gives color to animals and plants