Researchers have found mounting evidence that suggests that Neanderthals, an ancient hominid that lived in Europa an Asia until around 40,000 years ago, were far more sophisticated than people initially thought.
A new UC Davis study reveals that Neanderthals chose specific animal bones to craft tools for specific purposes, such as working with leather. Naomi Martisius, an associate researcher in the Department of Anthropology, studied Neanderthal tools from various archeological sites in southern France for her doctoral research.
Neanderthals left behind a tool called lissoir, a piece of animal rib with a smooth tip that is used to rub animal skins into leather. These tools are often so elaborate that it’s impossible to tell which animal they come from just by looking at them.
Martisius and her colleagues used highly sensitive mass spectrometry to observe the collagen protein residues in the bones. The method is called ZooMS, or Zooarcheology by mass spectrometry.
The technique divides the samples into pieces that can be distinguished by their mass to charge ratio and used to restore the original molecule.
Normally, this method would require drilling a sample of the bone. To avoid destroying the precious specimens, Martisius and her colleagues were able to collect samples from the plastic containers in which the bones had been stored and recover enough material for analysis, avoiding further damaging the ancient tools, which are evidence of the level of sophistication of our ancestors.
The results of the study revealed insightful data. Scientists found that the bones used to make lissoirs come principally from cattle, such as bison or aurochs (a wild relative of modern cattle, now extinct). But additional animal bones from the same deposit confirm that reindeer were much more common and were often hunted for food.
So Neanderthals decided to use only ribs from certain types of animals to make these tools.
“I think this shows that Neandertals really knew what they were doing,” Martisius explained in a statement. “They were deliberately picking up these larger ribs when they happened to come across these animals while hunting and they may have even kept these rib tools for a long time like we would with a favorite wrench or screwdriver.”
This means that Neanderthals know that Bovine ribs would better serve their purpose since these were much bigger and far more rigid compared to deer ribs, which made then an ideal tool for the difficult task of rubbing skins without wearing out or breaking.,
“Neandertals knew that for a specific task, they needed a very particular tool. They found what worked best and sought it out when it was available,” Martisius explained.
The results of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports, and offer new evidence of the level of sophistication of our ancestors, who were, without a reason of a doubt, far more sophisticated than what we believed until now.