A study by Bent Sørensen of the Department of Environmental, Social and Spatial Change at the Roskilde University in Denmark was published in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences just recently. The study titled “Energy use by Eem Neanderthals” discusses how the energy output that a Neanderthal produced to survive during the Eemian interglacial period may just tell us much more about their culture than previously thought.
“An analysis of energy use by Neanderthals in Northern Europe during the mild Eem interglacial period is carried out with consideration of the metabolic energy production required for compensating energy losses during sleep, at daily settlement activities and during hunting expeditions, including transport of food from slain animals back to the settlement. Additional energy sources for heat, security and cooking are derived from fireplaces in the open or within shelters such as caves or huts. The analysis leads to insights not available from archaeological findings that are mostly limited to durable items such as those made of stone: Even during the benign Eem period, Neanderthals faced a considerable heat loss problem. Wearing tailored clothes or some similar measure was necessary for survival. An animal skin across the shoulder would not have sufficed to survive even average cold winter temperatures and body cooling by convection caused by wind. Clothes and particularly footwear had to be sewn together tightly in order to prevent intrusion of water or snow. The analysis of hunting activity evolvement in real time further shows that during summer warmth, transport of meat back to the base settlement would not be possible without some technique to avoid that the meat rots. The only likely technique is meat drying at the killing site, which indicates further skills in Neanderthal societies that have not been identified by other routes of investigation.”
Sørensen takes into account that most of the items we have found at Neanderthal sites are “durable items such as those made of stone” that wouldn’t have disintegrated over time like clothing would have. Thanks to a few very special environments for preservation, like bogs and caves, some very old wooden materials have been uncovered. View my post to read about a 35,000 year old wooden flute just recently found in Germany.
The study uses a complex math formula to compute the energy output that would be used to do a particular activity in a cold climate, and the differences that ones clothing would have surely made in keeping the body warm.
Things taken into account:
-The Neanderthal body mass (which was much heavier and sturdier than Humans)
-The climatic environment is taken as that of Northern Europe, using Eemian temperature data. The climatic conditions would be similar in most of Northern Germany, Belgium and Denmark
-The Neanderthal diet consisted mostly of meat which was hunted and not scavenged.
-Animals “were hunted and killed by sinking spears into their body by a party of several Neanderthals. Spears were rarely thrown, as deduced from the absence of shoulder and upper arm bone asymmetries characteristic of more recent hunters using spear-throwing techniques.
-“Mammoth is in this study selected as an example for investigating the energy use involved in Neanderthal hunting, slaying and readying meat for eating, because of its size that demands a maximum of logistic skills by the hunters.” A Neanderthal group of about 25 would need the equivalent meat of 1 mammoth every 7 weeks.
-It is assumed that the meat was moved to the base settlement rather than moving the entire group to the kill site. “Evidence for carrying such weights is found in Neanderthal skeletons showing signs of Osteoarthritis damage.”
By taking a look at the Neanderthal lifestyle and by estimating the energy output, “the conclusion drawn is that in average winter conditions, the clothes worn must have been capable of preventing air flow from penetrating to more than small body surface areas, and that footwear in particular must have been tailored to wrap the feet entirely during the long walks associated with day-long hunting trips. Lithic remains from the Eem include awl-like points suited for making holes in skin material, as well as knife-like blades suited for cutting strips of animal skin, that could be inserted and weaved through the holes, in order to convert plain furs into fitting clothes.” “The risk of hurting a foot on a sharp stone or twig is increased by carrying heavy loads and thus reinforces the heat-loss based deduction of Neanderthals using well designed and sturdy foot wear.” More research and evidence has been poping up lately that recreates our image of the Neanderthal culture- yes, it seems they had one.
The estimate of Neanderthal energy requirement beyond the basic metabolic rate during sleep has defined the necessary environment during North European Eem winters, proving the need for bed-covers equivalent to a large furry hide, and day-time clothes and footwear with fairly modest inlets left for wind to penetrate through. The use of fires in caves, tents or huts without significant insulation and tightness is a help, but cannot in winter substitute for bed-cover and some underlay, such as straw (or a hide large enough to be swept around the body). The energy use for daytime activities have been estimated on the basis of a distribution if the durations of different tasks either known to have taken place at the settlement or inferred from the break-down of subtasks associated with hunting and food management, treatment of hides and making of clothes, as well as the stone-tool industry.
For more details on this conclusion please read the study here.