Science  16 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6147, pp. 700

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  1. Neandertals Made Bone Tools, Too


    Neandertals made bone tools (left), probably to work animal hides (right).


    Finely made bone tools found at two pre-historic sites in southwest France suggest that Neandertals independently invented these implements without help from Homo sapiens. Neandertals lived in Europe and Asia between about 135,000 and 35,000 years ago. Around the time that modern humans moved into Europe—between about 45,000 and 40,000 years ago—Neandertals' stone tools became more sophisticated, they began to wear jewelry, and they started using bone tools. Archaeologists debate whether these Neandertals copied modern human behavior or developed the behaviors before modern humans appeared.

    Now, two teams of archaeologists have found four bone tools dated earlier than the first known existence of modern humans in the region, they reported online on 12 August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The tools, made from red deer or reindeer ribs, are a type of implement called a lissoir, used to polish animal hides.

    This, the teams say, suggests that Neandertal technical abilities have been underestimated. Yet other researchers caution against drawing too many conclusions about Neandertal mental abilities from these tools, noting that specialized implements—for example, bone toothpicks—can be easy to make and are not necessarily an expression of advanced technology.