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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Better Living Through Neanderthal Chemistry

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Neanderthal manganese oxides LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Scientists from Leiden University and Delft University of Technology think that Neanderthals that lived at the site of Pech-de-l’Azé some 50,000 years ago may have used manganese dioxide to help kindle their fires. It had been thought that the blocks of manganese oxides found at Neanderthal sites in France were used for body decoration, but soot from their fires would have been readily available for use as a dark pigment. Why would Neanderthals go to the trouble to collect this mineral? Peter J. Heyes, Konstantinos Anastasakis, Wiebren de Jong, Annelies van Hoesel, Wil Roebroeks, and Marie Soressi found that although manganese dioxide is a non-combustible material, when ground into a powder and sprinkled on wood, it lowers the auto-ignition temperature of the wood and makes it easier to start a fire. The researchers suggest that the use of manganese dioxide for lighting fires provides new insight into Neanderthal cognitive capabilities. They also note that manganese dioxide is used today to make batteries. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

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