February 29, 2012

Neanderthals crossed the sea at least once

New research has found that the Ionian islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos were never united to land, what implies that the Mousterian findings (probably Neanderthal-made) belong to peoples who crossed from the mainland, almost necessarily on boat or raft of some sort (they could have swam in theory but hardly with kids and all the family, you know).

Source and more data at New Scientist (found via Pileta).

Reference paper: G. Ferentinos et al., Early seafaring activity in the southern Ionian Islands, Mediterranean Sea. Journal of Archaeological Science 2012. Pay per view.


  1. Could Neanderthals even swim? As they were so bulky and densely-built, it seems they would have much more trouble with it than the more ectomorphic population(s) that replaced them in Europe.

  2. 2/3 water, just like us or any other mammal. Elephants are also great swimmers, mind you, in spite of their stocky constitution.

  3. Elephants can swim? That is -- remarkable to imagine.

    I thought I have read that most primates cannot swim. Specifically, I remember reading that if an ape goes into water over its head, it is dead for sure.

  4. Elephants are excellent swimmers in fact, much more resistant than humans.

    For example: http://youtu.be/HpD40ewOyC4

    "... most primates cannot swim".

    That's possible. A reason may be that they are adapted to trees and that, where they live, water is usually occupied by dangerous predators, specially crocodiles. In many parts of Africa, for the very same reason, humans do not learn to swim, in spite of living near rivers or lakes.

    However I think that there is no reason why, say, a chimpanzee could not learn to swim if taught to.

  5. Wow -- Watching those elephants swim is really...surreal.

    Of interest:
    History of Swimming wiki
    "Swimming has been recorded since prehistoric times; the earliest recording of swimming dates back to Stone Age paintings from around 7,000 years ago"

    The paintings they are referring to seems to be from this cave. One article claims to paintings are from 8,000 BC, the other says 5,000 BC.

    The German version claims the paintings were from somewhere between 2,000 BC and 7,000 BC. The Spanish version is the same as the English, using the 8,000 BC dating.

  6. If anything, the barrel chested, (likely) well insulated, short limbed Neanderthals should have been better swimmers than the gracile moderns. Bears are also very good swimmers.

    Of note, in tank testing, modern Sub-Saharan Africans are slightly less hydrodynamic than modern Europeans, who have slightly greater torso/height ratios. Thus Africans dominate both sprinting (WA) and distance running (EA), but have not had an impact on competitive swimming.


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