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‘Multi-Purpose’ Neanderthal Tool Discovered In France

A 55,000-year-old Neanderthal tool has been unearthed in France by a team of scientists from the University of Montreal, shedding light into the early activities of our extinct cousins in Europe.

Sci-news reports that an expedition led by scientist Luc Doyon has made the discovery possible. The bone tool, described as “multi-purpose,” was found at Grotte du Bison in Burgundy. Dr. Doyon says the find provides information on the Neanderthals’ understanding of the creation and utilization of bone tools.

“This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered,” said Doyon. “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.”

According to Doyon, the find reveals further knowledge regarding Neanderthal behavior, potentially answering a long-standing debate within the archaeological community concerning the human group’s aptitude for tool-making.

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“The production of bone tools by Neanderthals is open to debate. For much of the 20th century, scientists were reluctant to recognize the ability of this species to incorporate materials like bone into their technological know-how and likewise their ability to master the techniques needed to work bone. However, over the past two decades, many clues indicate the use of hard materials from animals by Neanderthals,” Dr. Doyon said.

The scientist says Neanderthals did not primarily perceive bones as potential materials for tool creation, adding that they hunted wild animals first and foremost for their meat and nutrition. Marks on the tool show that the bone was first stripped off of its meat and marrow, presumably for consumption. Further sharpening of the bone is evidence that it was later on used as a scraping tool.

Doyon explained, “[T]he presence of this tool at a context where stone tools are abundant suggests an opportunistic choice of the bone fragment and its intentional modification into a tool by Neanderthals.”

The discovery debunks popular belief that the Homo Sapiens were the first human species to develop tools.

Doyon said, “It was long thought that before Homo sapiens, other species did not have the cognitive ability to produce this type of artifact.”

“This discovery reduces the presumed gap between the two species and prevents us from saying that one was technically superior to the other,” he added.

The study will be published in the French journal Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française.

[Image from Jaroslav A. Polák/Flickr and Maurice Hardy/Sci-News]