LEIPZIG, Germany, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Neanderthals in Europe may have been the first humans to make a kind of standardized and specialized bone tool still in use today, researchers say.
The tools from two Paleolithic sites in southwest France dated to 50,000 years are unlike any others previously found in Neanderthal sites, they said, but are similar to a tool type well known from later modern human sites and still in use today by high-end leather workers.
The tool, called a lissoir or smoother, is shaped from deer ribs and has a polished tip that, when pushed against a hide, creates softer, burnished and more water-resistant leather.
The Neanderthal tools were discovered by research teams from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
Modern humans replaced Neanderthals in Europe about 40 thousand years ago, but the Neanderthals' capabilities before encountering modern humans are still hotly debated.
"For now the bone tools from these two sites are one of the better pieces of evidence we have for Neanderthals developing on their own a technology previously associated only with modern humans," Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute said.
The tools have been dated to well before the best evidence of modern humans in Western Europe, and are much older than any other examples of sophisticated bone tool technologies, researchers said.
"If Neanderthals developed this type of bone tool on their own, it is possible that modern humans then acquired this technology from Neanderthals," Leiden University researcher Marie Soressi said. "Modern humans seem to have entered Europe with pointed bone tools only, and soon after started to make lissoirs. This is the first possible evidence for transmission from Neanderthals to our direct ancestors."