When Kenyon College archaeologist Bruce Hardy and his colleagues looked at the thread under a microscope, the fibers turned out to be from bast: a fibrous layer of tissue just beneath the bark of a tree. These particular fibers had probably come from a conifer like pine, which would have been available nearby, according to pollen and charcoal traces from the site. An ancient craftsperson had twisted fibers together clockwise to make twisted bundles and then twisted three bundles together counterclockwise to make a three-ply cord. The cord was about 0.5mm thick (lace weight, if you’re a modern knitter or crocheter).
a) SEM photo of ancient thread fragment from Abri du Maras; (b) 3D Hirox photo of the thread fragment; (c) schematic drawing of the thread fragment; s-twist sections are the clockwise-twisted bundles of individual bast fibers, and z-twist sections are the counterclockwise-twisted plies, made up of several bundles twisted together; (d) enlarged Hirox photo with cord structure highlighted.
Hardy et al. 2560
Compare the structure of the Abri du Maras thread to this close-up look at modern flax cordage.
The fiber find suggests that Neanderthal life included a lot more than stone and bone tools. Once you can twist or spin fibers into thread, you can make all sorts of things: clothes, nets, cord for fishing or hafting stone tools, and rope for all sorts of purposes. Those kinds of objects are, if you’ll excuse the pun, woven into the fabric of daily life, but the materials they’re made from decay quickly, so they’re almost invisible at Paleolithic sites like Abri du Maras. Archaeologists sometimes call wood and fiber artifacts “the missing majority,” and their absence can skew our ideas how about Neanderthals (and their eventual).