More Proof Neanderthals Weren't Stupid: They Made Their Own String

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 
Neanderthal cord
Samples found at the Abri du Maras excavation site in France prove that Neanderthals possessed much more complex fiber technology skills than was previously thought possible. Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr (CC By 2.0)/HowStuffWorks

Have you ever tried to make string? It's actually a bit tricky: You twist two or more bits of fiber together while at the same time twisting the individual strands in opposite directions so the fibers lock together. Whoever made the first string had to possess incredible fine motor skills and some basic mathematical understanding, not to mention the mind of a civil engineer.

According to a study published in the April 2020 edition of the journal Scientific Reports, it's possible the first string makers weren't even human. That is, not "human" by today's standards.


In the popular collective imagination, Neanderthals were not a bright people. We were smart and they were dumb, and that's why we survived to populate the earth by the billions and they died out. But evidence to support this theory is becoming increasingly thin on the ground as we begin to understand more about the last other human species to share this planet with us. There's evidence that they made glue, nursed their elders, could laugh at a good joke, were into jewelry and created art, and now it seems they could make yarn.

Neanderthal cord
3D photo from a digital microscope of the twisted cord fragment, originally attached to a stone cutting tool, found at Abri du Maras in France.
Scientific Reports (CC BY 4.0)/HowStuffWorks

The researchers discovered the fragment of cordage — probably between 41,000 and 52,000 years old and just the width of a child's pinky fingernail — at an archeological site in Abri du Maras, France. The fragment consists of three bundles of fiber twisted together, probably made from the inner bark of an evergreen tree. The string was found stuck to a small stone tool, and could possibly have served as a handle for the tool, or it could have been part of the string bag that held it. According to the study, the techniques used to make this fragment of string suggest "much larger fiber technology," which means they could have been making clothes, rope, mats and nets.

Just add this to the mounting evidence that Neanderthals were probably more similar to us than we thought!