August 13, 2013

Specialized bone tools made by Neandertals before the arrival of modern humans into Europe

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1302730110

Neandertals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe

Marie Soressia et al.


Modern humans replaced Neandertals ∼40,000 y ago. Close to the time of replacement, Neandertals show behaviors similar to those of the modern humans arriving into Europe, including the use of specialized bone tools, body ornaments, and small blades. It is highly debated whether these modern behaviors developed before or as a result of contact with modern humans. Here we report the identification of a type of specialized bone tool, lissoir, previously only associated with modern humans. The microwear preserved on one of these lissoir is consistent with the use of lissoir in modern times to obtain supple, lustrous, and more impermeable hides. These tools are from a Neandertal context proceeding the replacement period and are the oldest specialized bone tools in Europe. As such, they are either a demonstration of independent invention by Neandertals or an indication that modern humans started influencing European Neandertals much earlier than previously believed. 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.



Fiend of 9 worlds said...

There was a 50K+ year old set of what looked like a modern makeup kit containing face paints found a while ago. I won't be surprised to see evidence of more knowledge flow the other way. Also I bet bones have been used by everyone a long time, they just don't last.

terryt said...

Yet again we see the narrowing of the gulf between the two 'species'.

maine bushman said...

do you have pictures of these bone tools

eurologist said...

I wonder if the wooden Neanderthal tools categorized as "fire tenders" were actually used for leather processing, as well.

andrew said...

I'm not sure what to make of this study, and the abstract languages illustrates that the authors are tentative as well.

While examples of modern humans using bone tools are ubiquitous from ca. 70kya, this is the only instance ever, that I can recall, of a Neanderthal using a bone tool. Bone tools are one of the real tool set litmus tests that distinguish between Neanderthals and modern humans.

The fact that these tools are seen more than 200 kya after Neanderthals first appear within ca. 10 kya of the first documented replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans, and coincident with the early Upper Paleolithic suggests that a cultural diffusion from modern humans would explain this anomaly. But, as the authors explain, there isn't an easy explanation. If it is Neanderthal source, why didn't it become widespread and why was it so late to develop. If it was from modern humans, why wasn't it seen in Europe until then?

Rokus said...

This is just another indication that late Neanderthal and early modern humans are part of a single cultural development. The "replacement" part involved may just be an example of successful multi-way integration that could happen by then on a global scale.