An ancient tooth belonging to a child was discovered in Shuqba Cave (also spelled Shukbah) and it revealed very interesting news about Neanderthals.
Since the tooth was found in the cave, which is located in the hills north of Jerusalem, it is the most southerly evidence found thus far belonging to Neanderthals. This also suggests that they did in fact make it to Africa – a theory that has been long debated.
Chris Stringer, who is a human evolution expert at the National History Museum, stated how incredible this discovery was, “...we have speculated for a long time whether Neanderthals ever got to Africa. Shuqba is just a few hundred miles from Africa, so this finding really adds to the possibility that they did make it there.”
But that wasn’t the only interesting discovery found in the cave as stone tools were recovered that suggested Neanderthals used technology that was only known to have belonged to modern humans (called Nubian Levallois technology).
Stringer went into further details about that discovery, “...the stone tools found there were thought to be the product of modern humans. However, if this tooth reflects long term occupation rather than sporadic visits, it's likely that these kinds of tools were made by Neanderthals as well. We have an association of a Neanderthal tooth with an industry considered typical of modern humans.”
Fossils belonging to both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens have been found in several caves across the Middle East, but whether their tool-making techniques were unique to just one species remained unclear.
It was almost a century ago that the Shuqba Cave was first excavated by British archaeologist Dorothy Garrod. Back in the spring of 1928, stone tools and animal bones were found in the cave, but the most interesting discovery was a large molar tooth belonging to a human.
After remaining in a private collection for many years, it was eventually brought to the National History Museum where experts from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History as well as a team of international researchers were able to analyze it in further detail and learned that it belonged to a child between 7 and 12 years of age. They also studied the stone tools.
Since the child’s tooth was found at the same location as the tools, there is a real possibility that Neanderthals did in fact share the same tool-making technology that was long thought to be unique to Homo sapiens. (A picture of the tooth can be seen here.)
James Blinkhorn, who is from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and lead author of the study, reiterated this by stating, “Sites with both hominin fossils directly associated with stone tool assemblages remain a rarity - the study of both is critical to evaluate hominin occupations of Shuqba Cave and its place in the landscape.”
The study was published in Scientific Reports where it can be read in full.