Tools used by Neanderthals unearthed

Archaeologists unearthed 171000-year-old tools attributed to the Neanderthals at Poggetti Vecchi, Grosseto, Central Italy. The findings provide evidence that the Neanderthals used fire to craft them.

Handle of a tool found at the site (by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

The site dates back to late Middle Pleistocene and was an open air encampment of a group of Homo neanderthalensis. Archaeologists unearthed meter-long wooden sticks that had been rounded at one end and sharpened at the other, believed to have been used for digging. It is believed that it were the women in the group that carried out this occupation. According to the researchers such digging sticks are still used today – they are useful for digging up roots and tubers and can be used to hunt animals that burrow underground. The researchers found them to be made from boxwood, a particularly hard wood. They also discovered that the tips had been charred, likely as a means of removing stubborn bark. The team noted that the sticks had been charred in a consistent pattern in the same part of multiple sticks, which suggests it was intentional. Charring would have softened the bark, making it easier to remove. They also noted cut marks and striations on the shafts of the sticks, evidence of stone tool use to fashion an ordinary stick into a useful tool.

Similar technique is used by modern hunter-gatherers, but the artefacts are the earliest evidence of fire use by Neanderthals and of tool use by female members of a group. Archaeologists also discovered stone tools and fossil bones, largely belonging to the straight-tusked elephant.

Excavations at Poggetti Vecchi (by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

(after PhysOrg, Biancamaria Aranguren, Anna Revedin, Nicola Amico, Fabio Cavulli, Gianna Giachi, Stefano Grimaldi, Nicola Macchioni, Fabio Santaniello & Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

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