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24 January 2011
Neanderthals were more athletic than their stereotype suggests

Russian anthropologists and biotechnologists have studied peculiar features of Neanderthal skeletons, which differed from skeletons of modern humans, and reconstructed walk patterns and hunting strategies of ancient humans.
     Researchers from Moscow have studied models of hip bones and leg bones of ancient people, courtesy of the anthropology department of Moscow State University, and compared peculiar features of musculoskeletal system with images and drawings of Homo neanderthalensis remains from various collections. Scientists discovered that human ancestors had been excellent sprinters, able to run as fast as 45-50 kilometers per hour. Modern human body best fits for long slow runs, sitting and long-time standing. Neanderthals had walked and stood with legs slightly bound, that is why they rapidly got tired of long-term standing. As for sitting, ancient people preferred squatting to sitting, because they had had no intermediate layer of fat and muscle on their ischiadic bones.
     Archeologists very rarely report about finding smaller bones, belonging to birds and other small animals, on sites, where ancient Neanderthals had lived. Homo neanderthalensis had successfully hunted large animals, including such species as mountain goats and wild sheep, which are extremely cautious and difficult to hunt even with modern fire arms. Skeletons of ancient hunters often contain fractures in upper part of a body, not on legs, which can indicate that Homo neanderthalensis had hunted without using any throwing javelins or traps.
     Scientists gave consideration to four possible strategies of ancient humans' hunting. A large animal could be killed by a javelin from the distance of 30-40 steps. However, it is hard to defeat the target from such a distance, and it is easy for an animal to escape. Another strategy is hunting in a small group and throwing 3-4 javelins at the same time for one to hit an animals and others to distract animal's attention. But also this strategy is a difficult one to fulfill. Another strategy is hunting with traps, but this requires a large number of participants and some specific patterns of local relief.
     Russian anthropologists believe that Neanderthals hunted on their own. The ancient hunter could have crawled towards an animal as close as possible, and then had run as fast as he could, throwing a javelin, while running. However, a heavy spear is much more effective at small distances, than a light javelin. Calculations show that Neanderthal men could have been able to cover 15-20 meters within 1-2 seconds, which is enough for a unexpected and successful attack. This means that Homo neanderthalensis were very fast and accurate hunters.

Edited from Russia IC (19 January 2010)

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