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Better Homes and Hearths, Neandertal-Style

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Science  20 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5956, pp. 1056-1057
DOI: 10.1126/science.326.5956.1056

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Last month, Neandertal specialists gathered at a meeting marking the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Abric Romaní, a site where excavations have uncovered 14 layers of Neandertal occupation over 20,000 years and rapid sediment accumulation has led to "near-Pompeii-like" preservation of hearths, stone tools, and other artifacts. The researchers explored how Neandertals lived and behaved based on detailed studies at individual sites. Although many aspects of Neandertal behavior were discussed, such as their use of stone tools and what they ate—including growing evidence that they sometimes ate each other (see sidebar)—the meeting turned repeatedly to how Neandertals used fire and organized their space as the most fine-grained indicators of what they did every day. Some archaeologists have argued that Neandertals were less sophisticated than modern humans in their use of space, but that view found little sympathy in Tarragona.