New Find: Neanderthals Worked with Fibers to Make Yarn or Cord

The world’s oldest yarn or cord has been found. The fragment was discovered at the prehistoric cave site Abri du Maras in the south of France.

Scientific Reports Hardy et al Neanderthal Fiber

The 3-ply cord fragment was made from fibers by twisting, likely of inner conifer bark, and found on a stone tool. A number of artefacts at the same site also have plant / wood fibers adhering to their surfaces, but the remains are not extensive enough to classify as cords.

The researchers estimate the meaning of the find thus:

“While it is clear that the cord from Abri du Maras demonstrates Neanderthals’ ability to manufacture cordage, it hints at a much larger fibre technology. Once the production of a twisted, plied cord has been accomplished it is possible to manufacture bags, mats, nets, fabric, baskets, structures, snares, and even watercraft. […]

“Ropes and baskets are central to a large number of human activities. They facilitate the transport and storage of foodstuffs, aid in the design of complex tools (hafts, fishing, navigation) or objects (art, decoration). The technological and artistic applications of twisted fibre technologies are vast. Once adopted, fibre technology would have been indispensable and would have been a part of everyday life.”


Fascinating! Like the research team says, fiber making allows for an incredibly large variety of material culture, from utilitarian objects to clothing to decorative motifs. As a bit of a fiber nerd, it’s tantalizing to think that people were making yarn already 40,000 years ago.

Found via CNN. Read more in Scientific Reports.

Image: Hardy, B.L., Moncel, M., Kerfant, C. et al. in “Direct evidence of Neanderthal fibre technology and its cognitive and behavioral implications” via Scientific Reports


4 thoughts on “New Find: Neanderthals Worked with Fibers to Make Yarn or Cord

  1. Matthew Wright April 22, 2020 / 17:56

    The ongoing ‘rehabilitation’ of Neanderthals since their initial portrayal as shambling half-apes has been intriguing – e.g. we now know they invented fibre, had musical instruments, painted cave art, made birch-bark epoxy, etc. A slow process of discovery for us in which, I suspect, H. sapiens’ innate sense of self-exceptionality has been fighting an intense rear-guard action.


    • Eppu April 23, 2020 / 16:38

      That’s what it sounds like. In a related vein, I remember already mumble cough cough years ago at uni. my general linguistics prof was talking about the connection of language and pattern recognition and cognition, and studies done with non-human mammals and other animals. He was saying that the ability to engage in activities that we’re used to thinking of as human behaviors is wildly underestimated (and I’m wildly paraphrasing here, from memory, so please don’t quote me on the specifics) and that there are researchers who keep moving the goalposts accordingly, keeping a smaller and smaller range of activities in the group that denotes “intellect”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Matthew Wright April 23, 2020 / 23:49

        Yes, that doesn’t surprise me. I often think that arguments for human exceptionality also gain undue credence because – well, we’re meant to be (aren’t we?). I still recall my professor and associates doing back-flips, back when I was studying human evolution, to make the multiregional hypothesis of the day fit. The only way it could be done was to assume that humans, alone, weren’t subject to allopatric speciation. So at the time (also cough cough, mumble years ago) the only possible answer to the conundrum of out-of-Africa vs multiregional evolution was modern human exceptionality, even at a basic biological level. And it was duly credible because, hey, humans. Of course that argument was resolved with further evidence (sort of) – but as you say, self-exceptionality is still out there despite lesson after another in humility as we discover the range of animals that can do what we do, as we learn that our cousin species were as good as us at neolithic tech, and so on. Sigh. One day…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Eppu April 26, 2020 / 13:55

        Huh. At times it kinda makes you wonder about what kind of personalities our very earliest ancestors passed on, considering how many learned, highly-educated scientific thinkers (let alone the proverbial man in the street) cannot or just refuse to see holes in their pet theories.

        Interestingly, and somewhat tangentially, I think (because I’m only loosely plugged into the academia and this is very vague to begin with) there might be the beginnings of a trend in the humanities to de-center the West as Teh Bestest Culture(s) Evah.

        Or, you know, it could also be confirmation bias, or corona brain right now. Provided I make it, it’ll be interesting to look back in another 20 years.

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