On the trail of Neandertals!

In 2012, a team of French researchers began systematic excavation of a known Neandertal site in the coastal community of Le Rozel.  The site had been studied previously and known primarily as an occupation, a place where the remains of a hearth, stone tools, and animal bones had been excavated.  Someone spent time here making stone blades and butchering animals.  The stone tools matched those made by Neandertals, and the conventional radiometric age matched the purported time the Neandertals lived in Europe.  This was a Neandertal camp.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the new excavations revealed something even more rare: hundreds of ancient prints.  The prints were mostly footprints of the occupants of the camp, with a few animal tracks thrown in and even eight separate hand prints.  In all, 257 footprints were uncovered, in the same layers as hearths, stone tools, and 8,000 pieces of butchered animals.

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Some of the footprints and a handprint from Le Rozel, From Duveau et al, Figure 1.

Prior to this discovery, the richest location of Neandertal tracks was from a site called Theopetra in Greece, with a paltry two footprints.  Of sites that are more than 100,000 years old by conventional dating, only Happisburgh in Great Britain and Ileret in Kenya have similar numbers of tracks.  The sediments of Le Rozel preserved something special indeed!

With such an abundance of tracks, the researchers, Duveau and colleagues, made a study of the shape and sizes of the tracks.  Using only the best-preserved tracks, they found that the shape of the Neandertal foot was very similar to the shape of our Homo sapiens foot, but the Neandertal foot is wider and probably flatter than ours.  The shape of the footprints matched what we already knew about Neandertal foot anatomy.

NeandertalTracks

Looking at the size of the tracks, the researchers determined that 90% of the tracks were made by young adolescents or juveniles.  The smallest was probably made by a tiny Neandertal toddler only two years old!  The largest track found was a bit more than 11 inches long, corresponding to an individual that was probably 5’9″ tall.

Duveau and colleagues interpreted the distribution of track sizes to mean that the group was composed of mostly young individuals with only a few adults.  In their report, they described how this differed from other evidences, including the age distribution of modern tribal family groups and the ancient death assemblage of Neandertals at El Sidron in Spain.  In both of these cases, there were at least as many adults in the group as children.  The group at El Sidron was composed of thirteen individuals, seven of which were adults.  Why would the Le Rozel site be so different?

In order to estimate the age composition of the Neandertal group that camped at Le Rozel, Duveau and colleagues assumed “each individual made on average the same number of footprints,” but this does not seem likely.  Children tend to run around a lot more than adults do.  This site, with its hearths and butchered animals, suggests a work site where the adults were mostly still while they made stone tools, cut up their latest prey, or roasted their food.  At the same time, the children ran around and played, even pressing their hands into the soft mud.

How do Neandertals relate to creation and Genesis?  Most creationists agree that Neandertals were human beings, made in the image of God and descended from Noah’s family.  They lived very simple lives in Europe and Asia for a time very early in post-Flood history.  Eventually, as they encountered more and more Homo sapiens humans, many of them intermarried and eventually were completely absorbed into the Homo sapiens population.  Today, people of European, Asian, or even north African descent still carry the genetic heritage of their ancient Neandertal ancestors.

This new discovery reminds us of how much we still don’t know about these ancient people and how much might still be waiting to be discovered just under our noses.  The Le Rozel site is visible on Google Streetview!  It’s not some dense jungle in the deepest parts of Africa or Asia.  The site was very nearly someone’s back yard!  Imagine what God has in store for us to discover if we make an effort to really look!

 

References

Duveau et al. 2019. The composition of a Neandertal social group revealed by the hominin footprints at Le Rozel (Normandy, France)PNAS DOI 10.1073/pnas.1901789116.

Van Vliet-Lanoë et al. 2006. L’abri sous-roche du Rozel (France, Manche) : un habitat de la phase récente du Paléolithique moyen dans son contexte géomorphologiqueQuaternaire 17(3):207-258.