By Deane Morrison
Did Neanderthals and modern humans meet, and if so, to what extent did Neanderthals contribute to culture or biology? Gilbert Tostevin, an associate professor of anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts, tackles these tough questions by studying stone tools dating between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, when moderns were replacing Neanderthals in western Eurasia.
"Some scholars say that Neanderthals and modern humans never met. We know that's not right," says Tostevin. "We know they overlapped in time and space, so they must have met." If so, they may well have exchanged techniques of making tools, such as the flint artifacts Tostevin studies.
But there's no way to tell who made a stone tool. Thus, it's hard to trace how the culture of toolmaking might have passed from one group to another.
Tostevin approaches this problem by reconstructing the exact series of blows used to chip a piece of flint into a stone tool. He does it by examining both the finished piece and the sizes and shapes of flakes chipped off the original block of flint. Since the exact method of flake removal varies from one group to another, reconstructing the method gives a valuable clue to patterns of contact.
"If multiple [archaeological] sites have tools made the same way, then probably they were in cultural contact," says Tostevin. "If the groups were culturally intimate, most likely they were biologically intimate."
The video is a 3-D model of the sequence of blows in the reduction of a piece of flint into a hand axe--called a biface, because it's two-sided.
Tostevin will use his Imagine Fund grant to acquire 3-D models of actual flint flakes found in Europe for further studies.
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Reach: The College of Liberal Arts Magazine