Neanderthal Behavior in Southern Europe

This article goes into detail about the behavioral complexity of Neandertal populations in the Southern European area during the time frame of 160,000 to 40,000 BP. The authors argue that it makes more sense to debate the archaeological complexity when we compare the modern human and Neandertal records, not the issue of modernity (which they claim Neandertals do not possess). Therefore, it is important to note that for the rest of the article they shift their focus from modernity to complexity. Behavioural complexity is defined as “the accumulation of more parts and more connections between parts in cultural systems,” whereas symbolic thought can be defined as “the ability to represent objects, people, and abstract concepts with arbitrary symbols, vocal or visual, and to reify such symbols in cultural practice.

In archaeological contexts, artifacts that represent various high-level thought processes should include multi-component tools and modified raw materials that require precise knowledge of raw material sources, properties, design features and multiple manufacturing steps and stages required in their assembly, operation and maintenance.

They should also include practices such as the burial of the dead, use of personal ornamentation, the use of decorative pigments on surfaces (as seen from striations on pieces of pigment) and body modification. These practices likely reflect complex and largely abstract thoughts about the transition from life to death, cosmology and the material significance of relationships with others. For this study an archaeological instance of complex behaviour was defined as as a single type of artifact or feature possessing the characteristics described above from a single site in a securely dated context, regardless of the abundance of that artifact type or feature.

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Some interesting findings included eight intentionally modified oval containers made from stalagmite, 250 specimens of manganese dioxide (67 of which displayed wear in the form of scratches or shaping into triangular pencils), and about 25 burials with the ages ranging from a fetus all the way to 50 year old man (with one of them being an intentional burial of a 2-year-old child with a limestone block placed near its head and a flint on its heart). These findings provide some indication that Neandertals underwent independent behavioural developments that saw significant, if not comparable, behavioural evolution to that of our own species. This is significant as it points to the idea that Neandertals had similar cognitive capabilities to our own, which leads us to believe cognitive inferiority can not be pointed to as a key factor to explain their extinction.

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Neanderthal Behavior in Southern Europe. (2021, Dec 19). Retrieved from

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