Neanderthals Built Boats And Sailed 100,000 Years Ago ?

Jan Bartek

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Maritime history dates back thousands of years, och there is no doubt many ancient civilizations had excellent knowledge of navigation and sailing. Once ancient civilizations understood the value of trading, many maritime routes were established, and spices, gold, silk, and many other items were bought and sold. There is archaeological evidence magnificent ancient ships crossed the oceans, and curious explorers set foot on new lands.

Still, modern humans were not the ones who invented the boat. According to a study, the first seafarers were the Neanderthals, who lived from about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago. On islands in the Mediterranean Sea, scientists have examined several artifacts and stone tools uniquely associated with the Neanderthals.

"Archaeological data from the southern Ionian Islands show human habitation since Middle Palaeolithic going back to 110 ka BP yet bathymetry, sea-level changes and the Late Quaternary geology, show that Kefallinia and Zakynthos were insular at that time. Hence, human presence in these islands indicates inter island-mainland seafaring. Seafaring most likely started some time between 110 and 35 ka BP and the seafarers were the Neanderthals. Seafaring was encouraged by the coastal configuration, which offered the right conditions for developing seafaring skills according to the “voyaging nurseries” and “autocatalysis” concepts," the research team writes in a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Archaeologists found Mousterian tools on Zakynthos, Lefkada, and Kefalonia islands, which range from five to twelve kilometers from mainland Greece. The Mousterian tool technology, more commonly associated with the Neandertals, lasted from 300,000 to 27,000 years ago. Mousterian tool kits included hand axes, choppers, scrapers, backed knives, denticulates, and points.

How did these Neanderthal tools end up on the Greek islands? Paul Pettitt from the University of Sheffield suggested our long-gone ancestors could have swum that far. it is naturally a possible scenario, but it does not explain why similar tools were unearthed on the island of Crete. That would have meant swimming forty kilometers, which seems extremely unlikely, especially since such swimmers would not have known beforehand that Crete was there to find.

Neanderthalsbuiltboats2Did Neanderthals explore the oceans 50,000 years before modern humans? Credit: Adobe Stock - Matyas Rehak

George Ferentinos, lead author of the study, and his team suggest these ancient tools offer evidence the Neanderthals figured out how to build boats and sail long before modern humans got the idea. Scientists say the unearthed stone tools are about 100,000 years old. This would mean the Neanderthals were sailing around in the Mediterranean 100,000 years ago, and that is 50,000 years earlier than modern humans started seafaring activities!

There are also scientists who maintain hominids have been sailing for as long as a million years! This theory is based on the discovery of stone tools on the Indonesian island of Flores dating back that far.

Unfortunately, archaeologists cannot offer more evidence because evidence boats used by the Neanderthals would have been made of wood and decayed to nothing long ago.

The study was published in the journal Journal of Archaeological Science