Neanderthal Tools Reveal Human-like Intelligence and Innovation

First Posted: Aug 12, 2013 05:00 PM EDT

Neanderthals may be a bit smarter than we gave them credit for. It turns out that these ancient humanoids actually used tools and may have developed their own technology rather than just copying humans. The findings reveal a little bit more about this ancient species that disappeared about 40,000 years ago.

That's not to say that these bone tools are the first ones discovered to be used by Neanderthals. Archaeologists have previously found tools associated with Neanderthal sites. However, those bone tools looked like stone tools and were made with stone knapping percussive techniques. The new discoveries reveal that the Neanderthals selectively chose bone to create tools, taking advantage of bone's pliability and flexibility to shape it in new ways to do things stone could not do.

So what are these tools exactly? Microwear analysis conducted on one of the bone tools showed traces compatible with use on soft material like hide. "Lissoirs like these are a great tool for working leather, so much so that 50 thousand years after Neanderthals made these, I was able to purchase a new one on the Internet from a site selling tools for traditional crafts," said Marie Soressi, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It shows that this tool was so efficient that it had been maintained through time with almost no change. It might be one or perhaps even the only heritage from Neanderthal times that our society is still using today."

Scientists are still unsure how widespread these tools were in Neanderthal society. The first three tools found were mere fragments less than a few centimeters long. Then they found a larger, more complete tool. Since they were found in areas that showed no evidence of later occupations by modern humans, it seems as if these tools were used exclusively by Neaderthals.

"If Neanderthals developed this type of bone tool on their own, it is possible that modern humans then acquired this technology from Neanderthals," said Soressi in a news release. "Modern humans seem to have entered Europe with pointed bone-tools only, and soon after started to make lissoir. This is the first possible evidence for transmission from Neanderthals to our direct ancestors."

The findings are important for understanding these ancient people. In addition, they reveal that Neanderthals were intelligent, capable of developing their own tools. That said, more research needs to be conducted before scientists can definitively say that Neanderthals transmitted the technology to humans or vice versa.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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