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12 August 2010
Neanderthal's sleeping chamber discovered in Spain

Anthropologists have unearthed the remains of an apparent Neanderthal cave sleeping chamber, complete with a hearth and nearby grass beds that might have once been covered with animal fur. Neanderthals inhabited the cozy Late Pleistocene room, located within Esquilleu Cave in Cantabria (Spain), anywhere between 53,000 to 39,000 years ago.
     The Neanderthals appear to have constructed new beds out of grass every so often, using the old bedding material to help fuel the hearth. "It is possible that the Neanderthals renewed the bedding each time they visited the cave," lead author Dan Cabanes said. Cabanes, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science's Kimmel Center for Archaeological Research, added that these hearth-side beds also likely served as sitting areas during waking hours for the Neanderthals. "In some way, they were used to make the area near the hearths more comfortable," he said.
     For this study, Cabanes and his team collected sediment samples from the Spanish cave. Detailed analysis of the samples allowed the scientists to reconstruct what materials were once present in certain parts of the cave at particular times. The bedding material was identified based on the presence and arrangement of multiple phytoliths from grasses near the hearth area. Phytoliths are tiny fossilized particles formed of mineral matter by a once-living plant. There was no evidence of plants growing, soil developing or animal transport of phytoliths via dung, so the scientists believe the only plausible explanation is that Neanderthals gathered the grass and placed it in this room of the cave.
     Evidence is building that Neanderthals in other locations constructed such functional living spaces within caves and rock shelters. Earlier this year, Josep Vallverdu of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution and his team identified a 'sleeping activity area' at Spain's Abric Romani rock shelter. Similar to the Esquilleu Cave finds, Vallverdu and his colleagues discovered the remains of hearths spaced enough for seating and sleeping areas. "This set of combustion activity areas suggests analogy with sleeping and resting activity areas of modern foragers," Vallverdu and his team wrote.

Source: Discovery News (6 August 2010)

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