Few advancements in human history have had as much of an impact as fire. But there is debate surrounding how our early Neanderthal relatives discovered how to use fire — whether they were able to create it themselves or used naturally occurring fire from wildfires to fuel their own.
But a new study may have finally found a conclusive answer to this debate, as 50,000 year old stone tools with markings that indicate striking suggest that Neanderthals made their own fires just like modern humans.
The study was conducted by researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands and published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Ancient stone tools first found in France were analyzed by the researchers.
“These ~50,000 years old ‘Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition’ bifaces—often called hand axes—were effectively the Neanderthal Swiss Army Knife, used for numerous different tasks and for much longer periods of time,” Andrew Sorensen, the study’s lead author, told Newsweek.
The researchers found mineral traces on the flat sides of the bifaces which resemble percussive strike marks like those used to create fire.
“It looks like the Neanderthals would hold the biface in one hand and then strike a piece of pyrite across [its] flat surface… to create sparks that would have been directed onto a dry tinder material, which would then start glowing and used to start a fire,” said Sorenson. “The beauty of this method is that by using the flat sides of the biface, the Neanderthals were able to keep the edges of their tools sharp for other tasks.”
The study adds to the growing body of evidence that shows that Neanderthals were not the primitive, dim-witted creatures that history has made them out to be.
Instead more and more research is findings that Neanderthals were adept and innovative as they worked with their surroundings.
“I don’t know if this fundamentally changes our understanding of Neanderthals, but it does provide yet another instance demonstrating that Neanderthals were no dummies and just as capable as modern humans in using advanced technologies to get by and thrive, even though they sometimes went about it differently,” said Sorenson.