Four views of the most complete lissoir, or bone tool. (Credit: Quelle/UC Davis)

Neandertals made bone tools before we did

A bone fragment found in France is part of a specialized tool used to smooth tough animal hides. Neandertals made it 50,000 years ago.

“Previously these types of bone tools have only been associated with modern humans,” says Teresa E. Steele, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis.

“However, our identification of these pieces in secure Neandertal contexts leaves open the possibility that we have found, for the first time, evidence that Neandertals may have influenced the technology of modern humans.”

A reconstruction shows how lissoirs, made of deer ribs, could have been used to prepare hides to make them more supple, lustrous and impermeable. (Credit: UC Davis)
A reconstruction shows how lissoirs, made of deer ribs, could have been used to prepare hides to make them more supple, lustrous and impermeable. (Credit: UC Davis)

Undergraduate student Naomi Martisius made the initial discovery. She was sorting through tiny bone remnants in the UC Davis paleoanthropology lab when she stumbled across a peculiar piece.

“At the time, I had no idea about the impact of my discovery,” says Martisius, who is now pursuing her doctoral degree in anthropology at UC Davis.

Martisius’ opportunity was the result of a decade of excavation and research by two international teams. Their findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The bone tools were found in deposits containing typical Neandertal stone tools and the bones of hunted animals including reindeer, red deer, and bison. Three of the four pieces were from the site of Abri Peyrony, France.

The Neandertal tools are similar to specialized tools still used today to smooth and refine leather made into high-end purses and jackets.

The animal bones from that site had been exported to UC Davis for further analysis in Steele’s lab.

Source: UC Davis

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