Are you smarter than a Neanderthal toolmaker?

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Archaeologists look into whether Neanderthals copied human tools or innovated their own designs.

Could a Neanderthal use a hammer? Maybe. But could he build one himself without imitating humans? The question of whether our close hominid cousins had the ability to innovate new kinds of tools, and not just imitate, is coming up in scientific circles as archaeologists re-evaluate old archaeological sites.

Two recent studies examined the possibility that Neanderthals created a new toolkit in Europe about 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. For the past few decades, most archeologists assumed that Neanderthal stone tools were simple and roughly shaped. But that assumption may be undermined by the discovery at some Neanderthal sites of thinner, more blade-like stones, some with jagged toothed edges, and others that had one sharp edge and a dull, curved back. They were similar to tools favored by humans during the same time period, leading some experts to assume that Neanderthals were heavily influenced by human culture.

Now, some archaeologists are viewing Neanderthals in a more favorable light, casting them as an intellectual match for humans and calling into question the widely-held idea that changes in Neanderthal culture were introduced by Homo sapiens.

The first of the recent studies was set in southern Italy, where researchers examined a group of artifacts known as the Uluzzian culture. For archaeologists, often all that remains of a group of people are the things they leave behind (their material culture), so the ‘Uluzzian culture’ is the collective material remains of a group that lived about 30,000 years ago, in the Stone Age of southern Italy....

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