“The mammoth bones have been deliberately selected – long and flat bones, tusks and connected vertebrae – and were circularly arranged.
“The use of bones as building elements can be appreciated as anticipation of climatic variations. Under a cold climate in an open environment, the lack of wood led humans to use bones to build protections against the wind.”
The bone structure was found near the town of Molodova in eastern Ukraine on a site that was first discovered in 1984. It was constructed of 116 large bones including mammoth skulls, jaws, 14 tusks and leg bones.
Inside at least 25 hearths filled with ash were also discovered, suggesting it had been used for some time.
The researchers believe that the Neanderthals both hunted and killed the mammoths for meat before using their bones but also collected some of the bones from animals that had died of natural causes.
The findings, which are to be published in the scientific journalQuaternary International add to the growing view that Neanderthals were in fact quite advanced humans who had their own culture and may have even used language to communicate.
The oldest known remains of a building ever discovered, however, are more than 500,000 years old, built by the ancient human ancestor Homo erectus on a hillside outside Tokyo using wooden posts sunk into the ground.
Simon Underdown, a senior lecturer in biological anthropology who researches Neanderthals at Oxford Brookes University, said: “It’s another piece in the newly emerging Neanderthal jigsaw puzzle.
“Far from being the stupid cavemen of popular image it’s becoming increasingly clear the Neanderthals were a highly sophisticated species of human.
“We can now add shelter building to the list of advanced behaviours that includes burying the dead, spoken language, cooking and wearing jewellery.”