Bone Tools Found At Two Paleolithic Dig Sites
August 13, 2013

First Evidence Of Neanderthal Bone Tool Use Discovered

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers working at two neighboring Paleolithic digs in southwestern France have discovered fragments of hide-softening bone tools unlike any previously discovered at Neanderthal sites.

Two teams hailing from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Leiden University in the Netherlands jointly reported the discovery of the bone tools – the oldest of their kind ever found in Europe.

The four fragments discovered by the investigators are of tools known as lissoirs (or smoothers), which have been discovered at later modern human sites and are currently still used by some leather workers. According to Guardian science correspondent Ian Sample, the curved instruments were shaped from deer ribs.

“The tools are remarkable because they seem to pre-date the arrival of modern humans in Europe, suggesting that Neanderthals invented them, rather than copying the designs from humans,” Sample said. “The tools are said to be ‘specialized’ because they exploit particular features of bone, such as its toughness and flexibility.

“Lissoirs could not be made from a hard and brittle material like stone, because it would damage the leather and risk snapping in the user's hand. But made from bone, the tool would flex as it was pressed onto a hide,” he added.

The tools were discovered at the sites of Pech-de-l'Azé I and Abri Peyrony, and according to the AFP news agency, radiocarbon dating shows they are approximately 50,000 years of age.

The researchers note their findings are not completely conclusive, but they could shed new light on which civilizations were using bone tools for leather-working, and how early those tools were being used. Their findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“For now the bone tools from these two sites are one of the better pieces of evidence we have for Neandertals developing on their own a technology previously associated only with modern humans,” Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute, who was a member of the dig at Abri Peyrony, explained in a statement.

“If Neandertals developed this type of bone tool on their own, it is possible that modern humans then acquired this technology from Neandertals,” added Marie Soressi of Leiden University, who found one of the bones at the Pech-de-l'Azé I encampment. “Modern humans seem to have entered Europe with pointed bone tools only, and soon after started to make lissoirs. This is the first possible evidence for transmission from Neandertals to our direct ancestors.”