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22 December 2011
Neanderthals built homes with mammoth bones

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 44,000 year old Neanderthal building that was constructed using the bones from mammoths. The circular building, which was up to 26 feet across at its widest point, is believed to be earliest example of domestic dwelling built from bone.
     Neanderthals were initially thought to have been relatively primitive nomads that lived in natural caves for shelter. The new findings, however, suggest these ancient human ancestors had settled in areas to the degree that they built structures where they lived for extended periods of time. Analysis by researchers from the Muséum National d'Histories Naturelle in Paris also found that many of the bones had been decorated with carvings and ochre pigments.
     Laëtitia Demay, an archaeologist who led the research, said: "It appears that Neanderthals were the oldest known humans who used mammoth bones to build a dwelling structure. This mammoth bone structure could be described as the basement of a wooden cover or as a windscreen. Neanderthals purposely chose large bones of the largest available mammal, the woolly mammoth, to build a structure. The mammoth bones have been deliberately selected and were circularly arranged. Under a cold climate in an open environment, the lack of wood led humans to use bones to build protections against the wind."
     The bone structure was found near the town of Molodova in eastern Ukraine on a site that was first discovered in 1984. It was constructed of 116 large bones including mammoth skulls, jaws, 14 tusks and leg bones. Inside at least 25 hearths filled with ash were also discovered, suggesting it had been used for some time. The researchers believe that the Neanderthals both hunted and killed the mammoths for meat before using their bones but also collected some of the bones from animals that had died of natural causes.
     Simon Underdown, a senior lecturer in biological anthropology who researches Neanderthals at Oxford Brookes University, said: "It's another piece in the newly emerging Neanderthal jigsaw puzzle. Far from being the stupid cavemen of popular image it's becoming increasingly clear the Neanderthals were a highly sophisticated species of human. We can now add shelter building to the list of advanced behaviours that includes burying the dead, spoken language, cooking and wearing jewellery."

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