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Neanderthals Smart Enough to Make Bone Tools

Jan 14, 2015 04:07 PM EST

It would seem that Stone Age humans weren't all that more advanced than Neanderthals despite previous belief, as a new study shows they were smart enough to make multi-purpose bone tools.

"This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered. It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens," Luc Doyon, who was involved in the research, said in a statement.

During an annual dig at the Grotte du Bison at Arcy-sur-Cure in France, a team from the University of Montreal uncovered a bone from the left femur of an adult reindeer, dating back between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago. So how do they know that Neanderthals during this time used it as a tool?

It has long been under debate whether Neanderthals - human ancestors that lived in Europe and western Asia between about 250,000 and 28,000 years ago - built bone tools. Many scientists simply believed that they weren't smart enough, but recent research suggests otherwise. In fact, they may have been just as smart as modern humans, which goes against the popular opinion that they were primitive brutes.

"Our discovery is an additional indicator of bone work by Neanderthals and helps put into question the linear view of the evolution of human behavior," Doyon added.

The research team found, as described in the French journal Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, evidence of chipping and significant polish on the bone, suggesting Neanderthals used it as a scraper.

But these resourceful Middle Paleolithic beings did not just use the bones themselves as tools. They mainly used them to extract the nutritious, energy-rich meat and marrow from hunted game animals, as well as to sharpen the cutting edges of already existing stone tools.

"It was long thought that before Homo sapiens, other species did not have the cognitive ability to produce this type of artifact," Doyon said. "This discovery reduces the presumed gap between the two species and prevents us from saying that one was technically superior to the other."

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