Connect with us

Ancient Yarn May Have Been Made by Neanderthals

Credit: M-H. Moncel

Either that or some very enterprising bugs.

If ever there were a sign of intelligent, organized human life, it would be the presence of braided yarn. Obviously, yarn does not occur naturally. There’s no force in the world, living or inanimate, that can just accidentally braid plant fibers together. Nope, that’s all us, and as it turns out, we’ve been making yarn for nigh on 50,000 years.

Archaeologists digging at Abri du Maras, located in France, discovered a single scrap of thread stuck to the lower side of a stone flake. Based on uranium-dating, the thread was ballparked between 52,000 and 41,000 years old, in the mysterious age of the neanderthals. While proto-man is still very much a mystery to the scientific community, this piece of man-made fiber can tell us quite a bit about who they were and how they lived.

Credit: S. Deryck

By inspecting the fiber under a microscope, researchers determined that it was made of bast, a sort of pulpy stuff you can find under tree bark. Specifically, it’s bast from a pine tree, or some other local conifer, which based on pollen traces at the dig site, there seemed to be plenty of back then. An ancient crafter would twist multiple fibers together to make a small bundle, and then twist several bundles together to make a thick cord. It’s honest-to-goodness neanderthal yarn. The researchers theorize the yarn could’ve been used as a handle for a tool, or part of some kind of carrying bag. It could also just be a piece of junk a proto-person left on the floor.

In addition to crafting prowess, the fiber implies that neanderthals had some manner of numerical system, since the fibers are braided in a very deliberately measured way. Obviously, they didn’t possess math and numbers as we know them, but the fact that these creatures could figure out counting from scratch is still pretty incredible.