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Neanderthals and Boats

2 May 2018

At www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/04/neandertals-stone-age-people … it seems that Neanderthals may have been using boats to reach islands in the Mediterranean. In this instance, the Greek island of Naxos. This follows the discovery a decade ago of a cache of Neanderthal stone tools on the island of Crete – dating back 130,000 years ago. Crete, it is thought, has been an island for a very long time (although some people may argue otherwise). Radical archaeologists, in recent years, have built up a strong case of a Neanderthal presence on what are considered to have been islands for many thousands of years – going back deep into Neanderthal time. Again, the old paradigm that people did not use boats until the early Bronze Age is based on an assumption – the belief that hunter gatherers did not have the necessary practical knowhow or cognitive ability to think in an innovative enough fashion. This says more about the educated class than anything else as they have a similar narrow view of the lower rungs of their own societies – but who gets their car to work when it goes wrong? There is no inherent reason why hunter gatherers could not have used boats. When Europeans reached North America canoes were the favoured native mode of transport – simply because tramping through the forest was difficult. The same must have applied in the remote past so why would Neanderthals, or even Homo erectus, have not used boats (or rafts). As far as the survival of boats are concerned there is a 10,000 year old example from the Netherlands (preserved in bog like conditions) – and 10,000 years ago was definitely hunter gatherer time (the Mesolithic) indicating rivers and lakes in what is now the North Sea basin were explored and lived in from the end of the Late Glacial Maximum onwards. The earliest depiction of sails is thought to come from Old Kingdom Egypt – but again, sails are made from perishable materials. We might well ask how did Homo erectus cross deep water channels such as the Wallace Line if not in boats. People reached Sulawesi and Flores over a million years ago.

Determining which islands of today were islands tens of thousands of years ago is not easy, we are told, as it depends on local seismicity as well as ups and downs in sea levels. This is even a problem with more recent activity as the discovery of a Palaeolithic camp site on the island of Lemnos may indicate it was formerly not an island (as sea level has waxed and waned in the Mediterranean). However, it remains a likelihood that humans (predating the so called arrival of modern humans) were capable of using boats to travel around their immediate environment – particularly if forest was dense. It is also worth noting that mainstream did not think Neanderthals were capable of making and using fire until fairly recently – and the idea of Homo erectus living in villages was a genuine surprise (for everyone)The Science link is not very good so go straight to the heart of the matter – at www.naxos.gr/en/naxos/introducing-naxos/a-place-in-history/article/?aid=… .. or even go to another post on this site at www.sis-group.org.uk/news/naxos.htm

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