Charred ‘digging sticks’ found in Italy could be oldest Neanderthal tools made with fire

| | February 9, 2018

In the spring of 2012, while digging a hole for a thermal pool, construction workers in Grosseto, Italy, hit scientific pay dirt: layers of stratified soil and rock filled with prehistoric bones and artifacts close to 171,000 years old. Excavating the pool would have to wait. With further digging, the researchers found tantalizing evidence of early fire use—nearly 60 partially burned digging sticks made mostly of boxwood. The most likely creators of the sticks were Neandertals, who are known to have lived in Europe at that time. If our extinct cousins did indeed craft the sticks, they represent the earliest use of fire for toolmaking among Neandertals.

To verify their find, the researchers tried to recreate the sticks. Using sharpened stones and a ground fire—similar to the methods prehistoric peoples would have used—they successfully created a replica. The charred stick closely resembled a class of artifacts called “digging sticks,” multipurpose tools found around the world; today’s hunter-gatherers in Australia and South Africa still use them.

If the find is indeed linked to Neandertals, [archaeologist Erich] Fisher says that it could be one more nail in the coffin of their image as unsophisticated, technologically backward hominids. “This will reinforce the idea that there probably were commonalities,” in toolmaking across species, says John Rick, an archaeologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. “It humanizes Neandertals.”

Read full, original post: Could these be the oldest Neandertal tools made with fire?

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