Sophisticated Neanderthals

st meme aggsbach

This is a symmetric and well executed elongated cordiform biface (133 x 73 mm), produced by the use of hard and soft hammer technique, from the Saint-Même-les-Carrières site (

Expert performance via long-term working memory is the centerpiece of problem solving in Neanderthals. Long-term working memory is a long-term storage that does not fade rapidly and generally takes more trials to establish than for verbal or declarative memories. It consists of skills (whichis labeled savoir faire) or the ability to replay motor behaviors, techniques, or procedures such as stone tool knapping. It also includes the declarative knowledge of those skills (which is sometimes labeled connaissance). Long-term working memory is one prerequisite for enhanced social interaction and social transmission of different technologies in knapping stone, leading to the flexible discrete pattering of certain operational sequences in the archaeological record.

Innovative and experimental thinking was not confined to H.sapiens but is also contested in Neanderthals. Regarding Neanderthal behavior in the Aquitaine, Turq reports a change from unidirectional and bidirectional recurrent Levallois in pre-MIS5 assemblages to centripetal recurrent Levallois in Last Glacial sites. He also states that from MIS5, centripetal methods dominated alongside Kombewa and Quina flaking. According to Delagnes and Meignen, preferential Levallois is consistently older and commoner in the north than in southern France, and centripetal recurrent Levallois became dominant after MIS5. In Central Europe, on the other hand, bifacial tools, which are part of ensembles which display Levallois or more often non-Levallois characteristics, are omnipresent during the last glaciation.

Usually façonnage and debitage are considered as opposites, but in reality, both methods side by side can be observed in the archaeological record during the European Lower and Middle Paleolithic. Gilliane F. Monnier and Kele Missal recently stated (for Western Europe) that:  “Our results show that bifaces are not characteristic only of the “Acheulean” and the “Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition.” They occur continuously and in low frequencies across the European landscape from MIS 14 onwards”. In this view it is no surprise, that at Ferrassie, Handaxes are present during MIS5 and below the classic Ferrassie Mousterian, which is earlier than the MTA in the Aquitaine. The continuous presence of Handaxes in Northern France during the middle Paleolithic has also been demonstrated during the last 20 years.

Advanced working memory of Neanderthals enabled them to adapt their techniques to actual circumstances and needs as exemplified by the flexible use of different façonnage and debitage techniques that were always present in their social memory.

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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