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Neanderthals Developed the First Bone Tools, Researchers Find

Sep 21, 2013 04:46 AM EDT
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It wasn't the modern humans that came up with the idea of creating tools using bones. A new study has found that our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals, pioneered the art of making tools. What's remarkable is that their designs are still referred today, to make tools that smooth and refine leather used in manufacturing jackets and purses.

Naomi Martisius, an undergraduate student from University of California, Davis, was sorting out bone fragments used by the Neanderthals when she accidentally discovered a bone fragment that looked like a tool.

"Previously these types of bone tools have only been associated with modern humans," said Teresa E. Steele, associate professor of anthropology at UC Davis.

"However, our identification of these pieces in secure Neanderthal contexts leaves open the possibility that we have found, for the first time, evidence that Neanderthals may have influenced the technology of modern humans," she added in a news release.

The tools discovered at the university were made by Neanderthals about 50,000 years ago. Other researchers had earlier speculated that the bone instruments used to refine leather were made by humans. Three of the four pieces studied in the current research were from an excavation site at Abri Peyrony, France.

Martisius and colleagues will further be examining the tools and will also compare them with those made by early humans in Europe. 

The article "Neanderthals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe," is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Neanderthals diverged from the primate line that gave rise to modern humans about 400,000 years ago. This group then moved to Eurasia and completely disappeared from the world about 30,000 years back. Other studies have shown that Neanderthals might have lived near the Arctic Circle around 31,000 to 34,000 years ago.

Neanderthals are looked down upon as a kind of subhuman species. However, recent research has shown that the genus was intelligent and even capable of creating highly functional tools to adapt to new ecological zones.

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