The composition of a Neandertal social group revealed by the hominin footprints at Le Rozel (Normandy, France)
The limited knowledge we have of the size and composition of Neandertal social groups is usually based on indirect approaches using archeological or osteological data. In contrast, footprints provide more direct information about group size and composition. However, they are scarce in the fossil record, particularly for Neandertals. The discovery of 257 footprints at Le Rozel (Normandy, France) opens up a new approach for studies of the composition of Neandertal groups. By applying a morphometric method to a sample of fossil footprints made during a single brief occupation event, our analysis shows that they represent a small group with a majority of children and thus provides direct evidence of the composition of a Neandertal group.Footprints represent a unique snapshot of hominin life. They provide information on the size and composition of groups that differs from osteological and archeological remains, whose contemporaneity is difficult to establish. We report here on the discovery of 257 footprints dated to 80,000 y from the Paleolithic site at Le Rozel (Normandy, France), which represent the largest known Neandertal ichnological assemblage to date. We investigate the size and composition of a track-maker group from this large set by developing a morphometric method based on experimental footprints. Our analyses indicate that the footprints were made by a small group comprising different age classes, from early childhood to adult, with a majority of children. The Le Rozel footprints thus provide direct evidence for the size and composition of a Neandertal social group.