Analyses show that all Neanderthal individuals, regardless of age, had dental grooves. According to Antonio Rosas, CSIC researcher at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences: “This is due to the custom of these societies to use the mouth as a third hand, as in some current populations, for tasks such as preparing the furs or chopping meat, for instance.”
Rosas specifies that “what we have now discovered is that the grooves detected in the teeth of adult women are longer than those found in adult men. Therefore we assume that the tasks performed were different.”
Other variables analyzed are the tiny spalls of the teeth enamel. Male individuals show a greater number of nicks in the enamel and dentin of the upper parts, while in female individuals these imperfections appear in the lower parts.
It is still unclear which activities corresponded to women and which ones to men. However, the authors of the study note that, as in modern hunter-gatherer societies, women may have been responsible for the preparation of furs and the elaboration of garments. Researchers state that the retouching of the edges of stone tools seems to have been a male task.
It makes sense. Women likely prepared furs because it is something one can do in comparative safety back at the settlement while looking after kids. It might be dangerous to prepare them in the wild because the scent would attract predators that would typically avoid human a settlement. Men likely preferred to nick their own tools, when the need arose, rather than trust someone else to do it.
Rosas concludes: “The study of Neanderthals has provided numerous discoveries in recent years. We have moved from thinking of them as little evolved beings, to know that they took care of the sick persons, buried their deceased, ate seafood, and even had different physical features than expected: there were redhead individuals, and with light skin and eyes. So far, we thought that the sexual division of labor was typical of sapiens societies, but apparently that’s not true.”
The analysis of activity-related dental wear patterns in prehistoric anatomically modern humans and modern hunter-gatherers has shown sex differences attributable to a gendered division of labor. Neandertals are known to have extensive anterior dental wear related to the use of their front teeth as a tool. In this study we analyze the i) cultural striations (scratches on the labial surface of the anterior teeth with a cut-mark morphology), and ii) dental chipping (ante-mortem microfracture involving enamel or both enamel and dentine) in 19 Neandertal individuals from the l’Hortus (France), Spy (Belgium), and El Sidrón (Spain) sites, and compare the characteristics of those traits with the age and sex estimation for the individuals and among samples. The study reveals that all individuals have cultural striations, but those detected on the adult females are longer than the striations found in adult males. Regarding the distribution of dental chipping, the prevalence of this trait is higher in the maxillary dentition of males whereas females have the majority of dental chipping on their mandibular teeth. The differences detected on the overall activity-related dental wear pattern denote a difference or a division of labor by age and sex in Neandertals while using the mouth as a third hand, i.e., in activities other than the provisioning of food, and provide new evidence for the lifestyle of this Pleistocene fossil human species. (paywall)
See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
A deep and abiding need for Neanderthals to be stupid. Why?
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