Image of the Day: Ancient Fiber Technology

Researchers discover a fragment of cord between 41,000 and 52,000 years old that points to Neanderthals’ complex cognitive abilities.

Amy Schleunes
Amy Schleunes

A former intern at The Scientist, Amy studied neurobiology at Cornell University and later earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa. She is a Los...

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Apr 13, 2020
A scanning electron microscope image of the three-ply cord fragment, which is approximately 6.2 mm long and 0.5 mm wide 
M-H. Moncel

A fragment of three-ply cord attached to a stone tool uncovered in Abri du Maras, France, represents “the oldest direct evidence of fiber technology to date,” report the authors of a study published on April 9 in Scientific Reports. Dating back to between 41,000 and 52,000 years ago, the cord is composed of inner bark fibers and may have been a handle or part of a net or bag. This finding confirms Neanderthals’ ability to manufacture cords, the authors write in the paper, and it also indicates that they possessed a sophisticated understanding of trees along with mathematical and operational abilities.

“The technological and artistic applications of twisted fibre technologies are vast,” the authors say. “Once adopted, fibre technology would have been indispensable and would have been a part of everyday life,” providing raw materials for clothing, ropes, bags, mats, and boats. 

This and other discoveries relating to Neanderthal art and technology make it increasingly difficult to “regard Neanderthals as anything other than the cognitive equals of modern humans,” the authors conclude.

B.L. Hardy et al., “Direct evidence of Neanderthal fibre technology and its cognitive and behavioral implications,” Scientific Reports, doi:10.1038/s41598-020-61839-w, 2020.