Ancient string shows Neanderthals were into fiber technology, scientists say

Who's primitive now, huh?

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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This is a microscope view of the cord fragment.


New scientific evidence is showing us that Neanderthals may've been much more sophisticated than we give them credit for. The latest discovery is a prehistoric piece of string that's more than 40,000 years old.

Researchers found the small piece of cord, which consists of twisted fibers, on a flint fragment in southern France. "Microscopic analysis showed that these remains had been intertwined, proof of their modification by humans," said the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in a release on Thursday.

Though modern humans might find a piece of cord mundane, it represents some advanced abilities. "Understanding and use of twisted fibers implies the use of complex multi-component technology as well as a mathematical understanding of pairs, sets, and numbers," the research team, led by B.L. Hardy of Kenyon College, wrote in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday.

The fiber used in the cord came from the inner bark of a tree. The scientists suggest it may've been wrapped around a tool or could've come from a net or bag.

Neanderthals are an extinct branch of humanity, but they've long been popularly viewed as uncivilized cave people. Studies in recent years have been rehabbing the Neanderthal image by showing how they used marine resources and took care of their own. The ancient string now represents the oldest known direct evidence of fiber technology.

"Added to recent evidence of birch bark tar, art, and shell beads, the idea that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans is becoming increasingly untenable," the researchers said in the study

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