Did Neanderthals invent tool used by present-day leather-workers?

Specialist bone tool predates arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe.

Two sites in the Dordogne Valley in southern France have yielded four nearly identical deer rib fragments with smoothed edges. These have been interpreted as being a type of tool known as a lissoir (French ‘to make smooth’) used for preparing animal hides. The lissoir is used by present-day leather-workers to make hides softer, tougher and more waterproof. No other known artefact from the Middle or Upper Palaeolithic could be used for such a task. To manufacture such an implement, it is necessary to polish and grind rib fragments to a predetermined size and shape.

A date of 51,500 years old has been obtained for one of the artefacts using optically stimulated luminescence, making these tools the earliest-known specialised bone tools in Europe. Crucially, this date is around 5,000 years before modern humans reached Europe, implying that the tools were manufactured by Neanderthals. Continue reading

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