Archaeology seems to be undergoing an explosion of new finds in the past decade or so. More and more, new information is completely scrambling old assumptions about human evolution and early modern human and hominid culture.
The latest amazing find was written up yesterday in the New York Times:
Early humans, possibly even prehuman ancestors, appear to have been going to sea much longer than anyone had ever suspected.
That is the startling implication of discoveries made the last two summers on the Greek island of Crete. Stone tools found there, archaeologists say, are at least 130,000 years old, which is considered strong evidence for the earliest known seafaring in the Mediterranean and cause for rethinking the maritime capabilities of prehuman cultures.
Crete has been an island for more than five million years, meaning that the toolmakers must have arrived by boat. So this seems to push the history of Mediterranean voyaging back more than 100,000 years, specialists in Stone Age archaeology say. Previous artifact discoveries had shown people reaching Cyprus, a few other Greek islands and possibly Sardinia no earlier than 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
The oldest established early marine travel anywhere was the sea-crossing migration of anatomically modern Homo sapiens to Australia, beginning about 60,000 years ago. There is also a suggestive trickle of evidence, notably the skeletons and artifacts on the Indonesian island of Flores, of more ancient hominids making their way by water to new habitats.
This is part of what I love about archaeology: Just when you think you've got it all figured out, new evidence comes to light, which overturns our ideas, and deepens them too. Whether or not it turns out to be the case that Neanderthals were ancient mariners, I, for one, have a strong suspicion that we substantially underestimate what our ancestors were capable of and just what was going on 50K, 100K, or 200K years ago. After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.