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Dancing Neanderthals

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

It seems hard to believe, but researchers have identified at least 87 Neanderthal footprints on an ancient shoreline at Matalascanas beach in southwestern Spain.

The footprints date to about 106,000 years ago, around the end of the last Interglacial of the Ice Age. Also found were tracks left by large and small vertebrates, including elephants and waterbirds.

All the panoply of modern science, including even drone surveys, has been brought to bear on the footprints, including 3D photogrammetric models, precise measurements taken on the surface and from the air, as well as comparisons with known Neanderthal footprints from elsewhere.

That the people were Neanderthals seems certain, given that no other known humans were living in Europe at the time. Of the footprints, seven belonged to children, 15 to adolescents, and nine were left by adults. Most of the human footprints form a band running parallel to the modern coastline. Perhaps the group was stalking waterbirds, waders, and small carnivores in the water – or collecting mollusks or catching fish close inshore.

Whatever the case, the group was moving well clear of the large animals travelling in the same general direction. However, the children’s footprints tell of wandering away from the older Neanderthals, with one child jumping, perhaps indeed dancing through the sand. Seems children’s behavior on the beach has not changed over the millennia.

Image: Hominin footprints on the Matalascanas Beach site. (Eduardo Mayoral et al. Nature.)

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