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28 January 2012
Neanderthals and their contemporaries engineered stone tools

New published research from anthropologists at the University of Kent (UK) has scientifically supported for the first time the long held theory that early human ancestors across Africa, Western Asia and Europe engineered their stone tools.
     For over a century, anthropologists have debated the significance of a group of stone age artefacts manufactured by at least three prehistoric hominin species, including Neanderthals. These artefacts, collectively known as 'Levallois', were manufactured across Europe, Western Asia and Africa as early as 300,000 years ago.
     Levallois artefacts are flaked stone tools described by archaeologists as 'prepared cores', shaped in a deliberate manner such that only after such specialised preparation could a prehistoric flint knapper remove a distinctive 'Levallois flake'. Levallois flakes have long been suspected to be intentionally sought by prehistoric hominins for unique standardised properties of size and shape.
     Now, a experimental study in which a modern-day flint knapper replicated hundreds of Levallois artefacts supports the notion that Levallois flakes were indeed engineered. By combining experimental archaeology with morphometrics (the study of form) and statistical analysis, the Kent researchers have proved that Levallois flakes removed from these types of prepared cores are significantly more standardised than the flakes produced incidentally during Levallois core shaping, called 'debitage flakes'. Importantly, they also identified the specific properties of Levallois flakes that would have made them preferable.
     Dr Metin Eren, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University's School of Anthropology and Conservation, and the flint knapper who crafted the tools, said: "The more we learn about the stone tool-making of the Neanderthals and their contemporaries, the more elegant it becomes. The sophistication evident in their tool-making suggests cognitive abilities more similar to our own than not."
     Dr Stephen Lycett, Senior Lecturer in Human Evolution and the researcher who conducted the laboratory analysis, explains: "Amongst a variety of choices these tools are 'superflakes'. They are not so thin that they are ineffective but they are not so thick that they could not be re-sharpened effectively or be unduly heavy to carry, which would have been important to hominins such as the Neanderthals".

University of Kent, Mail Online (24 January 2012)

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