Aurignacian mystery?

8 Mar 2011

At ... most textbooks and internet sources such as Wikipedia or Britannica define the Aurignacians as the first Homo sapiens to enter Europe, appearing on the scene around 40,000 years ago. It is essentially a tool repertoire that is common to Europe and south west Asia. This is actually the range of the Neanderthals who appear to have co-existed with Aurignacians for a few thousand years (but this is not certain as C14 dating methodology in years gone by was prone to produce dates wildly up and down around the 40,000 year mark). Anyway, the theory is that Neanderthals and Aurignacians lived in the vicinity of each other for a time. Neanderthals are associated with a particular kind of tool kit - described as blunt instruments. It is known as Mousterian. Wherever Mousterian tools have been found it is assumed that Neanderthals had lived in that region and were responsible for them. However, why couldn't Neanderthals have developed tools more like those associated with Aurignacians? A couple of sites, one in Italy and another in central Europe, appear to suggest Neanderthals might have created slimmer and more fragile points, possibly due to influence from Homo sapiens. The blog author asks if it is possible that Neanderthals may even have copied their cousins and produced Aurignacian type tools, and archaeologists have been misled. The author quotes an article in the Journal of Human Evolution (2009), 'Who made the Aurignacian and other Upper Palaeolithic Industries?'

A similar story line pops up at where the argument is developed in a different way. Were Neanderthals dumb brutes, as some prehistorians continue to think so, or fairly smart, as others are trying to present them. Its a bit of a childish debate, the facts should take preference over theory - but as always in science this rarely happens. The preconceived opinion is what drives science - or holds it back (depends on how you look at it). The faction determined to keep the lid on Neanderthal dumb status are a bit like the rearguard action employed in the fight against cosmic disasters. In this piece another paper is also cited, by Thomas Higham of Oxford University and published in Proceedings of the National Acadmey of Sciences (January 2011). He pours cold water on the idea the Neaderthals were responsible for creating new kinds of tools as the Mousterian tools were blunt and solid and may actually represent the optimum tool for the job - within the Neanderthal culture and lifestyle - which brings us back to the Aurignacians. Were they Homo sapiens as very little work has been done in spite of the discovery of teeth and small pieces of bone found in situ with Aurignacian tools. We only know they lived and thrived in regions formerly the habitat of Neanderthals, who had completely disappeared by 30,000 years ago. That in fact is the real mystery - what happened to them?