Neanderthals were not only strong but also dextrous with their fingers, according to Swiss and German researchers who compared skeletons of Homo sapiens and of Neanderthal man.
Neanderthals were long thought to have been ape-like, ugly, unsophisticated and unintelligent, but more and more recent research has shown that they had artistic and symbolic concerns and that they used sophisticated tools.
In this latest study, Gerhard Hotz of the Basel Natural History Museumexternal link and Katerina Harvati of Tübingen University in Germany compared six Neanderthal skeletons with those of a museum collection from Basel hospital and cemetery “identified in the 19th century with information about the living conditions and professions of the deceased”, according to Hotz in a museum press release.
The scientists measured and analysed the attachment points of tendons and muscles on the skeletons to see if their movements were rather forceful or skilful. In the hand, for example, these points differ according to whether the deceased was a blacksmith or a seamstress.
The comparison with modern skeletons shows that none of the six Neanderthals studied were limited only to forceful movements. This means, according to Harvati, that "like modern man, the Neanderthals made and used tools in a skilful way, making mostly precise movements of the hands and fingers in their daily activities”.
The study results are published in the Science Advancesexternal link review.