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19 May 2011
Reindeer teeth hold clues to Neanderthal hunting tactics

Analysis of subtle chemical variations in reindeer teeth suggest the Neanderthal employed sophisticated hunting strategies similar to the tactics used much later by modern humans. Kate Britton, an archaeologist now at the University of Aberdeen, and her colleagues wanted to find out more about adult reindeer remains from a 70,000 year old layer at the Jonzac Neanderthal hunting camp site in France - a rock shelter believed to have been used over a long period of time - by looking at the teeth and their chemical composition.
     Teeth are made of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, strontium and other elements, but not all the atoms of each element are the same. Some atoms, or isotopes, are heavier than others and may have slightly different chemical properties. Says Britton, "Strontium in your bones and teeth is related to the food and water you consume... to the underlying soil and rocks of a particular area." It's possible to look at the strontium isotopes and find out if the animals ate and drank always in the same area, or if they moved around.
     The reindeer have similar strontium isotope patterns, suggesting they moved from one area to another and back again while their teeth were developing. "The reindeer were probably travelling through the area during their annual migrations," Britton says. The Neanderthal were probably aware of the reindeer migration patterns and planned their stays to make the most out of the moving herd. "This sophisticated hunting behaviour is something we see much later in the Upper Palaeolithic amongst modern human groups, and it's really fascinating to see that Neanderthals were employing similar strategies," concludes Britton.

Edited from PhysOrg.com (16 May 2011)

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