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Charred Neanderthal Tools

PNAS A boxwood tool made by Neanderthals using firePNAS

Excavations for the construction of thermal pools in Poggetti Vecchi, Tuscany, Italy, resulted in the discovery of a number of tools indicating that Neanderthals, a hominid species that lived in Europe between 400,000 and 30,000 years ago, used fire to shape wooden objects earlier than previously thought. A team of archaeologists led by Biancamaria Aranguren, from the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism, found 58 boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) implements that were shaped with the aid of fire about 170,000 years ago (PNAS, February 5). Prior to this discovery, there was no record of Neanderthals using fire to shape wood earlier than 130,000 years ago. The wooden tools were found alongside some 200 stone artifacts, as well as the fossilized bones of an extinct species of elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus). According to Aranguren, the tools were likely used for multiple purposes, including digging, but not necessarily for hunting. The pieces were rounded into a handle at one end and sharpened into a point at the other. Many were charred on the surface, suggesting fire had been used to help remove the bark.