Dig site in Tuscany reveals Neanderthals used fire to make tools

Dig site in Tuscany reveals Neanderthals used fire to make tools
Poggetti Vecchi, Grosseto (Italy). This is a general view of the excavation. Credit: PNAS

A team of researchers from several institutions in Italy has found evidence of Neanderthals using fire to craft tools approximately 171,000 years ago. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group outlines where the naturally preserved wood artifacts were found and how they discovered their purpose.

Wood, as the researchers note, has always been a popular material for crafting tools and weapons. It is readily at hand and can be relatively easily crafted to allow for specific uses. In this new effort, the researchers describe meter-long sticks that had been rounded at one end and sharpened at the other, suggesting a digging stick. Digging sticks are still used today—they are useful for digging up roots and tubers and can be used to hunt animals that burrow underground. In a pinch, they can also be used as a weapon. The sticks were found at a site in Tuscany, Italy, called Poggetti Vecchi—an area that has previously given up Neanderthal artifacts.

In studying the sticks, the researchers found them to be made from boxwood, a particularly hard wood. They also discovered that the tips had been charred, likely as a means of removing stubborn bark. The team noted that the sticks had been charred in a consistent pattern in the same part of multiple sticks, which suggests it was intentional. Charring would have softened the bark, making it easier to remove. They also noted cut marks and striations on the shafts of the sticks, evidence of stone use to fashion an ordinary stick into a useful tool. The team notes that modern hunter-gatherers use roughly the same technique in making their digging sticks. The team dated the sticks back to approximately 171,000 years ago, putting them in the Middle Paleocene, a period when Neanderthal were dominant in the area.

Dig site in Tuscany reveals Neanderthals used fire to make tools
Detail of the handle of digging stick no. 2 on the paleosurface U2 of the Poggetti Vecchi site. Credit: PNAS

The find marks the earliest evidence of fire use by Neanderthals and of tool use by female members of a group—it is the women in modern hunter-gatherer groups that use digging sticks.

Dig site in Tuscany reveals Neanderthals used fire to make tools
Poggetti Vecchi, Grosseto (Italy). This is the excavation of the tusk of a straight-tusked elephant. Credit: PNAS

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More information: Biancamaria Aranguren et al. Wooden tools and fire technology in the early Neanderthal site of Poggetti Vecchi (Italy), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1716068115

Excavations for the construction of thermal pools at Poggetti Vecchi (Grosseto, Tuscany, central Italy) exposed a series of wooden tools in an open-air stratified site referable to late Middle Pleistocene. The wooden artifacts were uncovered, together with stone tools and fossil bones, largely belonging to the straight-tusked elephant Paleoloxodon antiquus. The site is radiometrically dated to around 171,000 y B.P., and hence correlated with the early marine isotope stage 6 [Benvenuti M, et al. (2017) Quat Res 88:327–344]. The sticks, all fragmentary, are made from boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and were over 1 m long, rounded at one end and pointed at the other. They have been partially charred, possibly to lessen the labor of scraping boxwood, using a technique so far not documented at the time. The wooden artifacts have the size and features of multipurpose tools known as "digging sticks," which are quite commonly used by foragers. This discovery from Poggetti Vecchi provides evidence of the processing and use of wood by early Neanderthals, showing their ability to use fire in tool making from very tough wood.

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Feb 06, 2018
I thought heating the wood with fire would hardened it. Maybe that is only with green, sappy wood. To bend wood for a bow or boat plank, it is first moistened/steamed then bent into desired shape while steaming hot and allowed to cool while strapped/clamped. Scraping off the bark may not have been necessary. Bark would have worn off eventually anyway. The bark may not have been intentionally removed. Digging with the tool would have worn the bark away.

Feb 07, 2018
Because the differentia specifica between humans and all other lower forms of life is the willful creation and use of fire, this means that the "Neanderthals" were human. (Birds that may use fire spreading to flush out prey cannot willfully create it.)

Feb 07, 2018
D1, in the article the researchers claimed to have found stone tools used to finish the tool crafting. I would think that microscopic abrasions would differ between meticulous crafting and random digging?

tgbs, I agree that the DNA evidence is that our Homo Anthropophagus ancestors sexually reproduced with Homo Neanderthalensis. And that the resulting descendants were obviously not sterile mules. Cause, here we are!

Proof positive that all of us recent hominids are of one species.

Additionally, I agree with the position that mutagen fumes from close use of fire were a contributing factor to Human evolution.

Pity, that after all that effort and pain? We modern Homo Stupids are so determined that our greatest achievement will be our extinction as we spitefully destroy this world's biosphere.

A sign of our ancient monkey instinctive heritage. " If I can't have it? Nobody else can have it!"

Feb 07, 2018
sexually reproduced
-as opposed to some other kind of reproduced? WHAT are they teaching in health class nowadays?

Feb 08, 2018
Well Otto. when you (finally!) achieve 6th grade? You will find out.

I hope for your sake that your local school board is progressively moderate enough to permit medical professionals input and guidance in the selection of materials and lesson plans used for sex education.

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