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16 December 2010
Neanderthals may have made earliest human bone tool

Palaeoanthropologist Christine Verna or the Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology suggests that parts of a Neanderthal skull excavated at La Quina in southwest France were used as a tool for sharpening flint tools some 50,000 years ago. Until now, the earliest known evidence for use of human bone were perforated teeth, probably used ornamentally, also found in southwest France.
     The bone was first excavated in 1926 from a site under a cliff by the side of the Voultron River that yielded only Neanderthal remains. Verna and Francesco d'Errico of the University of Bordeaux re-examined the bones microscopically. Animals bones from the site also showed similar evidence of being used to retouch stone, although the discovery of a human skull used for such purposes is at present unique.
     Whether the use of human bone indicates that human remains were regarded no differently to animal remains, or whether in this instance the use of the skull was more meaningful to the user, remain unclear. Verna and d'Errico, whose paper is published in the Journal of Human Evolution, suggest that researchers need to examine Paleolithic remains carefully to see if there are other examples of this behavior.

Edited from LiveScience (15 December 2010)

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