Madrid, 16 (European Press)
Neanderthals, hunters, used fire to keep the landscape open, altering ecosystems 125,000 years ago.
This is the discovery published in Science Advances by a team of researchers led by Leiden University.
“Archaeologists have long asked about the character and temporal depth of human intervention in our planet’s ecosystems. We are seeing more and more very early and generally weak signs of this,” says Will Robrooks, Professor of Archeology at Leiden University.
These markers proved much stronger in research at the Lignite quarry near Halle in Germany. Archaeological research has been carried out in this quarry, Newmark Nord, over the past decades, along with a wealth of data on early ecology, abundant traces of Neanderthal activities have been found. “Among other things, we found the remains of hundreds of slaughtered animals, surrounded by many stone tools and a large amount of charcoal remains.”
The ruins have been found in what was 125,000 years ago a wooded area where not only prey such as horses, deer, and cattle lived, but also elephants, lions, and hyenas. This mixed deciduous forest stretched from Holland to Poland. There were lakes in several places in the area, and traces of Neanderthals were found on the edges of some of them, Robrox explains. The moment Neanderthals appeared there, the enclosed forest gave way to large open spaces, due in part to the fires.
“The question is, of course, whether it was opened because of the arrival of hominins, or whether hominins came because it was open. However, we found enough evidence to conclude that hunter-gatherers kept the area open for at least 2,000.” Comparative research by Leiden professor of paleontology Cory Buckles found that in similar lakes in the region, where the same animals roamed, but where there are no traces of Neanderthals, the dense forest vegetation has remained largely intact.
Until now, it was generally believed that only when humans switched to agriculture about 10,000 years ago did they begin to shape their environment, for example felling trees to create fields. But many archaeologists believe it began much earlier, on a smaller scale, and according to Roebruck, Neumark-Nord is the first example of such an intervention. Robrox says the new research findings are important not only to archaeology, but also to disciplines involved in nature restoration, for example.
“It also adds something to the behavioral spectrum of early hunters. They weren’t just ‘primitive hippies’ who roamed the landscape picking fruit here and hunting animals there. They helped shape their landscapes.”
A previous study by Robros and his research team showed that knowledge of fire had already been passed down by hominins at least 400,000 years ago. “We should not be surprised if future research finds traces that suggest hominins had a significant impact on their environment much earlier, at least at a local level.”
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