Ancient tools that date back nearly half a million years were made from elephant bones and were considered to have been “complex” for that time period. In fact, their sophisticated methods for making those tools were about 100,000 years in advance.
The tools, which were found at a site called Castel di Guido which is located near Rome, Italy, were analyzed by archaeologist Paola Villa from the University of Colorado Boulder as well as her colleagues. Many straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) would have gone to that location to take a drink from the stream and some of them ended up dying there. Their bones were eventually taken by ancient humans who used them to make tools about 400,000 years ago.
The Stone Age individuals created the tools in a systematic and standardized manner as noted by Villa, “We see other sites with bone tools at this time.” “But there isn't this variety of well-defined shapes.” She went on to explain, “At Castel di Guido, humans were breaking the long bones of the elephants in a standardized manner and producing standardized blanks to make bone tools.” “This kind of aptitude didn't become common until much later.”
As for who created these sophisticated tools, Neanderthals are the most common option as they were beginning to emerge in Europe around that time. “About 400,000 years ago, you start to see the habitual use of fire, and it's the beginning of the Neanderthal lineage,” Villa stated, “This is a very important period for Castel di Guido.”
The researchers identified and studied a total of 98 bone tools from the site that included some with points that may have been used to cut meat, while some contained wedges that could have been used to split the femurs and other long bones of the elephants.
But probably the most fascinating tool was one that was made from a wild cattle bone that was long and smooth at one end and looked similar to a lissoir or a smoother (these were used to soften leather). The incredibly strange thing about it was that lissoirs only became popular around 100,000 years later.
While it may seems as though whoever made these tools (presumably Neanderthals) were quite advanced during that time, they actually weren’t any more intelligent than other individuals from 400,000 years ago. They just made due with the resources they had available. Maybe so, but it’s still fascinating that they were creating tools that only became popular 100,000 years later.
Villa finished off by noting, “The Castel di Guido people had cognitive intellects that allowed them to produce complex bone technology.” “At other assemblages, there were enough bones for people to make a few pieces, but not enough to begin a standardized and systematic production of bone tools.” (Pictures of these bones tools can be seen here.)
The study was published in PLOS ONE where it can be read in full.