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24 March 2013
Were Neanderthals fitter than Olympic athletes?

New studies published by the University of Cambridge (UK) show that Stone Age man was much fitter than originally thought. Colin Shaw and Jay Stock, who are biological anthropologists at the university, carried out a series of tests and calculations on the lower leg bone of Neanderthals and compared them with the stresses and strains experience by other active groups. These groups included modern athletes and swimmers, and the Neanderthal’s contemporary hunter-gatherers from southern Africa. The studies showed, not surprisingly, that the swimmer group had the weakest legs (swimming involves development of the upper torso and not the lower body). However, the Neanderthals outshone all other groups including modern long distance runners and their African cousins.
     The strength they developed in their legs allowed them to travel much greater distances than previously thought. This is borne out by the materials that they fashioned into spear points. The studies by the University centred on an inland delta in Botswana and it was found, by chemical analysis, that the stone spear heads found in the delta matched outcrops of rock found over 220 kilometres away and did not match any of the locally sourced material. The reasons for sourcing the stone from such a distance are not known but one theory could be that food was scarce locally and so long distance travel was required. They would therefore either make or replace spear heads where they were hunting. More research will be required before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.

Edited from ScienceNews (8 March 2013)

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