It was commonly accepted that the Neanderthal were quite the archetypal cavemen, always ready to hunt with a spear. This idea was partially based on the fact that their right upper arm bone was on average a 50% larger than their left one, so it seemed logical that this overdevelopment was the product of an intense spear thrusting activity. Now researchers in the UK and USA have found that it was probably due to a much more domestic task: hide processing.
The international team of researchers, lead by Professor Colin N. Shaw of the University of Cambridge, tested a series of movements on athletes, measuring their muscle activity with electrodes. They found that, when spear thrusting, the left arm expended more energy than the right one. So the scientists measured another activity that was believed to be very important to the Neanderthal: scrapping.
‘When you put the electrodes on people and have them scrape, the muscle activity fits much better with what you see in Neanderthal humeri,’ says Shaw. ‘It gets us away from the idea that they were spear thrusting as much. They didn’t have to hunt to survive that often, but they were doing some long-term planning for when it became colder by scraping hides.’
Photo: Erich Ferdinand/Flickr
Colin N. Shaw, Cory L. Hofmann, Michael D. Petraglia, Jay T. Stock, & Jinger S. Gottschall (2012). Neandertal Humeri May Reflect Adaptation to Scraping Tasks, but Not Spear Thrusting PLoS ONE : 10.1371/journal.pone.0040349
The Neanderthal Legacy