New Study Suggests Early Humans May Have Acquired Tool Making Technology from Neandertals

Newswise — (Boston) New research suggests that Neandertals in Paleolithic Europe made specialized tools from animal bones before the arrival of modern humans, and that modern humans may have acquired knowledge of this early technology from Neandertals. These findings are discussed in detail in a new study co-authored by Boston University geoarchaeologist Paul Goldberg and an international team of researchers. The study, titled “Neandertals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe,” is in the current issue of PNAS Early Edition (

Evidence indicates that, during the period modern humans replaced Neandertals, about 40,000 years ago, Neandertals exhibited behaviors similar to those of the modern humans arriving into Europe, including the use of specialized bone tools, body ornaments, and small blades. This study raises the possibility that Neandertals developed some of these modern behaviors before they encountered modern humans.

In the study, the researchers closely analyzed a type of specialized bone tool called a lissoir that until now had only been associated with modern humans. (Lissoirs are a formal, standardized bone-tool type, made by grinding and polishing, evidently used to prepare hides.)

The lissoirs examined in this study were recovered from two Neandertal sites that predate the modern human replacement period and, in fact, are the oldest specialized bone tools found in Europe to date. Analysis of these tools indicates that Middle Paleolithic Neandertals were shaping animal ribs to a desired, utilitarian form and producing standardized bone tools using specific bone-working techniques. These bones are the earliest evidence of this behavior associated with Neandertals, and they move the debate over whether Neandertals independently invented aspects of modern human culture to before the time of population replacement. As such, they may represent a demonstration of independent invention by Neandertals or that modern humans started influencing European Neandertals much earlier than previously believed. However, because these finds clearly predate the oldest known age for the use of similar objects in Europe by anatomically modern humans, they could also be evidence for cultural diffusion from Neandertals to modern humans.

About Boston University—Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience with a global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research. In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

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