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Neanderthals Made Specialized Bone Tools And May Even Have Taught Humans How

Specialized tools found in Europe could mean that Neanderthals taught humans a few tricks

Four angles on the same preserved lissoir. Photo: Abri Peyrony & Pech-de-l’Azé I Projects

Forget the stereotypes of Neanderthals as thick-headed dunces. Evidence is dripping out of archaeological digs across Europe that Neanderthals may have cookedpainted and, according to new research, made specialized bone tools.

From a research site in France, scientists dug up bones which they say were used as a lissoir, a tool used for working hide into leather. And, based on the dated age of the research site, the bone tools were likely crafted by Neanderthals, not humans. Discover:

Researchers reached that conclusion after analyzing four bone fragments from two separate Neanderthal sites in southwestern France. They confirmed that the artifacts showed clear evidence of being fashioned and utilized for a specific task — in this case, treating animal hides.

… The Neanderthal lissoirs are a significant find because they could force archeologists to rewrite the chronology of Paleolithic European humans. According to the researchers associated with the find, the lissoirs suggest either that modern humans arrived in Europe much earlier than believed, imparting their knowledge of tool-making to the resident Neanderthals, or that Neanderthals invented specialized tool-making independently of H. sapiens. A third theory suggested by the team, if proven, could be even more surprising given the long-standing stereotype of our low-browed relatives: perhaps it was the Neanderthal tool-maker who imparted his knowledge to modern humans.

Neanderthals had used bone before these lissoirs, but these more specialized tools shown a jump in technique.

“McPherron cautioned that the researchers are not suggesting that Neanderthals were the first to make bone tools,” says Charles Choi for LiveScience.

“There are sophisticated bone tools that are even older in Africa, for instance,” McPherron said. “Neanderthals were, however, the first in Europe to make specialized bone tools.”

The researchers, says Choi, are hoping to find even older sites with such sophisticated Neanderthal tools, to really confirm that it was them, and not humans, who made them.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Neanderthals Noshed on Plants—and Cooked?

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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