Hunting of mammoths by modern humans (homo sapiens), as well as the use of their bones for construction of habitat (mainly in Russia and Ukraine) is documented for the Upper Paleolithic. Could it be that this type of construction was invented by men before Homo Sapiens? Why not ! Well recently we think that Neanderthals may have been the first to carry out these constructions.
Indeed, Neanderthals have long been considered an archaic being compared to Homo Sapiens, but more and more recent studies contradict this reputation. A new Franco-Ukrainian study goes in this direction by trying to prove that Neanderthals not only ate mammoths but also used their bones to make dwellings. The results of this study, carried out by Laëtitia Demay and Stéphane Péan, and coordinated by Marylène Patou-Mathis and Larissa Koulakovska1 have just been published in the journal Quaternary International. On the site of Moldova I located in the Dniester Valley in Ukraine many remains have been discovered and studied. This study is based on a level dating from the Middle Paleolithic (-300,000 to approx. -35,000 years) which yielded 3,000 mammal bones, in particular woolly mammoths, and 40,000 Mousterian lithic remains. The various remains discovered make it possible to establish distinct activity areas such as a butcher's area and a tool production area. 25 hearths and a circular accumulation of mammoth bones that may be a habitat structure were also unearthed at the site. Around this region, the habitats are made of bone because wood is lacking. After an archaeozoological study of the bones of this structure, we can say that the number of mammoths used is about 15 individuals. It can also be said that after the streaks on the bones, the Neanderthals scavenged the meat for food.
The circular structure of mammoth bones seems to correspond to a windbreak shelter. It is not a covered dwelling like those of the Upper Paleolithic made by modern humans. Inside we are in the presence of about fifteen hearths, lithic tools as well as butchery waste, characteristic of a domestic space.
The Neanderthals would therefore be the oldest Hominids to have used mammoth bones to build dwelling structures. The presence of ocher on a number of bones even suggests a certain search for aesthetics (and / or symbolism?) In the Neanderthals.
“Neanderthal and mammoth. Terms of mammoth use between food and construction during the Middle Paleolithic: Zooarchaeology applied to the layer 4 of Molodova I (Ukraine) ”. DEMAY L., PÉAN S., PATOU-MATHIS M., 2012. Quaternary International, pp. 212-226.