How lived hunting and gathering

How did the Neanderthals live?

Caves and tents

For decades, caves were the only Neanderthal shelters. They are even referred to as cavemen because most of the skeletal remains were found in caves.

However, this is probably due to the fact that the archaeological find layers were more protected there than in the open air and so have been preserved to this day. These remains include those discovered in 1856 in the Feldhofer Grotto in the Neandertal near Mettmann.

But the Neanderthals also seem to have built tents that offered protection from moisture and wind. Unfortunately, only a few documents of this have survived. Around 40,000 years ago, two dwellings made of mammoth bones and tusks were built near Molodova in the Ukraine. The inner part was about 35 square meters each and offered space for two fire pits.

Traces of settlement found in a tub volcano in the Eastern Eifel near Ochtendung next to the skull of a Neanderthal man are even older. The lava stones, set in two layers, were probably the basis of tent structures and were built by early Neanderthals around 200,000 years ago.

Stone age fashion

Cold and wind threatened the existence of the Neanderthals during the Ice Ages. Surely they envied bears and other animals their fur. The fact that it did not stop there is shown by traces of cuts from primeval bear bones. These suggest that the animals were skinned.

But that's not all: Remnants of oak bark extract still cling to stone tools that are 100,000 years old - a substance that is still used today for tanning leather and making waterproof shoes. The Neanderthals then sewed the individual parts together: Holes were drilled in the leather with pointed tools called awls.

In Arcy-sur-Cure, France, 50 such awls made of bone and ivory were found. They have been sharpened several times and are badly worn, which experts conclude that they have been in use for a long time and have drilled tens of thousands of holes with them.

The late Neanderthals probably even wore jewelry: the oldest finds are around 38,000 years old. We do not know whether the Neanderthals themselves came up with the idea of ​​carving animal figures, rings and chain links, or whether they copied it from Homo sapiens.

Care of the injured

Some remains suggest that Neanderthals did not abandon injured group members to their fate, but rather cared for them. For example, in Shanidar Cave in Iraq, a man was found with an injured left eye socket and a missing right forearm. Further broken bones were apparently splinted, so that he lived for months, maybe even years.

Neanderthal nursing had a long tradition among the Neanderthals. The oldest documented case goes back 175,000 years: At that time, a man in the French Vaucluse fell out of teeth after an inflammation of the gums. Actually his death sentence, because without a bit he couldn't eat the mostly hard food of his day. However, he lived a long time - his clan must have looked after him and chewed hard and tough things for him.

Presumably the Neanderthals already knew the healing properties of certain plants and herbs. In addition to skeletal remains of Neanderthals, more than 4000 charred seeds and fruits of various plant species were found in the Kebara Cave in Israel.

Scientists suspect that some of them were used as medicinal plants - for example, wild grape, pistachios, lentil vetch and acorns for blood purification, for wound care and for diarrheal diseases. So it can be assumed that the Neanderthals were able to accelerate the healing process.

But what if old group members could no longer get up, but the group had to move on? Then were they left behind? Skeletal remains of stone age seniors are extremely rare.

Some researchers see this as an indication that Neanderthals did not care for old or handicapped members of their group until death. Accordingly, they died where their strength finally failed them or where their legs failed - alone. This, from our point of view, cruel custom could have been necessary in the community of hunters and gatherers in times of famine in order not to endanger the survival of the entire clan.

Well equipped for the hunt

Not only push lances, but also javelins were part of the hunting equipment of the Neanderthal man. But he didn't invent it. In Schöningen, Lower Saxony, wooden spears up to 2.50 meters long were discovered, which are 400,000 years old and therefore belong to the late Homo erectus.

The Neanderthals refined the technique further: he glued sharp-edged stone points to the tip of the spear with birch pitch for hunting large animals, and bone points for smaller animals. Although the spears did not reach great speed, they sometimes inflicted deep wounds on the animals.

To this day there are scientists who believe that the Neanderthals did not get their meat rations through active hunting, but that they cut off the meat of dead animals and obtained the pulp from their long bones. However, the carefully crafted hunting weapons should actually convince even the last doubters that the Neanderthals were skilled hunters.

Kitchen tips from the Stone Age

One could actually assume that the Neanderthals cooked their food - after all, they had known fire for a long time and they also needed plenty of water to survive. But that was probably not the case. Cooking pits and so-called cooking stones have been found near the remains of Homo sapiens. However, there are no such indications from the time of the Neanderthals.

Nevertheless, the meat probably tasted better cooked to the Neanderthals than raw. During preparation, he had the option of spearing it and holding it directly in the fire.

Alternatively, he could grill it in the charcoal embers or hot ashes. Hot stones could have served as his first frying pans - a type of cooking that is again modern in some steakhouses today.

Neanderthals mainly ate meat, also because it contains significantly more energy than, for example, wild berries or root vegetables. Due to their harsh living conditions, Neanderthals had a high need for calories.

The food we eat on average would have been enough for them to breathe and not freeze to death - it wasn't enough to survive.