Neandertals take out their small blades

From San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Paleoanthropology Society and Society for American Archaeology meeting

Excavations of Neandertal artifacts at two caves in northern Spain have yielded an unexpected discovery—a trove of thin, double-edged stone blades that researchers usually regard as the work of Stone Age people who lived much later.

In 2005, Federico Bernaldo de Quiros of the University of Léon in Spain and his coworkers unearthed small stone blades, which they called bladelets, lying amid larger, characteristic Neandertal stone implements in a cave called El Castillo. All the finds came from sediment that had previously been dated to 47,000 to 42,000 years ago. Later, the researchers found nearly identical bladelets in soil at another cave, Cueva Morin, which also contains 50,000-year-old Neandertal tools.

At both caves, Neandertals fashioned bladelets in a series of stone-cutting operations similar to those employed by Homo sapiens several thousand years later, Bernaldo de Quiros now proposes.

Similar breaks near the base of many Neandertal bladelets indicate that the implements were attached to handles of some kind, the Spanish investigator says.

The finds suggest that Neandertals were the intellectual equals of H. sapiens, at least in toolmaking, Bernaldo de Quiros says. Neandertals may have been nudged into the bladelet business by northern Spain’s poor-quality rock, which is best suited for producing small tools.

Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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