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SNAP in The Toronto Star

Neanderthals in a boat? Not such a far-fetched notion after all – McMaster University research bolsters theory that our primitive cousins were more sophisticated than previously thought.

Dec 27, 2016

In late December 2016, SNAP made headlines in the Toronto Star, Canada's largest online news site. We also made it onto the front page of the printed version that week.

The first archeologists to find strange stone artifacts on Naxos were French researchers working on the Greek island in 1981.

Naxos, the largest in a cluster known as the Cyclades that dot the Aegean Sea, is rich in the type of archeology many would recognize from classical exhibits in museums: 5,000-year-old, beautifully proportioned white marble figurines; 3,000-year-old, strikingly patterned pottery vessels.

These scrappy pieces of rock looked much, much older.

“The stone tools they were finding on the site looked nothing like the stone tools that had ever been found before on prehistoric sites in the Cycladic Islands,” said Tristan Carter, an archeologist at McMaster University in Hamilton.

Archeologists have long believed that the first people to colonize the region were early farmers who arrived by boat approximately 9,000 years ago. Only humans who had made the leap from a hunter-gatherer subsistence to organized agriculture — a major revolution in the history of our species, one that saw a lurch forward in technological and social complexity — could have accomplished the sea crossing.

But the stone tools on Naxos appeared to be hewn by Paleolithic people — much more ancient humans, perhaps not members of our species at all.

Since 2013, Carter has co-directed a new round of investigations on Naxos. He and a handful of others working in the region have begun to furnish evidence that humans reached the islands of the Aegean Sea 250,000 years ago and maybe earlier. If those dates are confirmed, it means the first people there were Neanderthals, their probable ancestors, Homo heidelbergensis or maybe even Homo erectus.

Could these archaic hominins have travelled by boat?

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