How smart-slash-dumb were the Neanderthals, our hulking, hirsute cousins? The common view used to be that they were fairly stupid. Then it became the prevalent view in scientific circles that the Neanderthal had been done a grave injustice and that they were far smarter and more cultured than previously believed. But here is a new piece of evidence that maybe they weren’t so smart after all. It had previously been believed that they had mastered Bachokirian tool use some 44,000 to 46,000 years ago. (“Bachokirian” signs of culture and ingenuity are named after the cave wherein they were found, Bacho Kiro in Bulgaria; items from the cave include bone and stone tools and pendants made from the teeth of cave bears.) Not so fast, says a tooth that was recently discovered. That tooth came from us, from Homo sapiens, and it proves that Homo sapiens arrived in Europe some 8000 years earlier than previously believed. Having Homo sapiens around that early suggests that the Neanderthal didn’t invent Bachokirian tools after all. They learned how to make them and use them from the Homo sapiens. Monkey see, monkey do.
This also means that we—modern humans—and Neanderthals were living together in Europe for 8000 years longer than previously thought. What were they doing for all those years?