Perhaps, Neanderthals were the first seafarers and voyaged more than 100,000 years ago.
World’s oldest boat found in the Netherlands is 10,000 years old. The oldest image of the sail from Ancient Egypt is 4,500 years old. The first materially evidenced voyage from India to Arabia was performed some 4,000 years ago.
However, people used to cross waste of waters long before that. Thus, the first members of our species appeared in Australia some 50,000 years ago. At the time, that meant that they were certain to sail across from one island to another. The so-called hobbits – human species short of stature, known under the Latin name Homo floresiensis, or their ancestors could also get to Flores Island, Indonesia, via the sea only.
We still have no idea in what way these trips were performed in prehistoric times. One of the versions suggests that people were reaching the islands accidentally, not intentionally, – as a result of disaster processes, like tsunamis, etc. According to alternative version, people were already able to build ships and to sail on them. Until recently, there were no satisfactory proof of the second version.
However, in 2008 and 2009 the Greek-U.S. team of archaeologists discovered hundreds of stone tools from Acheulean culture close to Plakias village located in Crete island. The similar tools were invented by our ancestors, Homo erectus, more than a million years ago. Neanderthals were using them too.
Archaeologists applied various dating methods and concluded that the soil around the tools is at least 130,000 years old. However, there were doubts of whether the stone tools were as old as the soil they were embedded in. So other archaeologists were skeptical.
However, in the years that followed, some interesting archaeological evidences were found on other islands of this region that proves the existence of seafaring in the Stone Age. Thus, stone tools from Mousterian culture were found on Naxos island. This culture was typical for both Neanderthals and Sapiens between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago. Researchers believe that the only way to reach this island, even during glaciation period when the sea level was lower. Mousterian tools were also found on the islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea.
Nevertheless, it is still too soon to say that Neanderthals were seafarers. Even if it is proven that they were the one, who manufactured these tools, the existence of land bridges between islands and the continent shall also be excluded, which is rather a challenging task.
If it turns out that these people were building ships and sailing the seas, we would have to review our stereotyped images of them, especially given the fact that recent research results indicate that Neanderthals were good at cave paintings.