written by: Thea Franklin
• edited by: Amanda Grove
• updated: 6/6/2012
Learn about the types of tools the Neanderthals used, how they made them, and just what they used them for in this study guide. Who know that a simple carved stone could take down a great woolly mammoth?
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The Neanderthal tools were made out of stone, as it was one of the most common materials in the areas where they lived and traveled. At that time other materials, such as wood or bone, weren't strong enough for the kind of use they required. Neanderthal tool technology is known by another name, Mousterian, which is named after an archaeological site in Dordogne, France, called Le Moustier. The site contained many samples of tools and weapons that are examples of the Mousterian technology.
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How's It Made?
The type of stone used for the tools varied by location and what happened to be available. Sometimes whole stones were used and carved into the needed tool; other times a "flake," or a portion of a rock chipped off from the original rock, was used. Flint was one of the most commonly used types of stone. When it was hit by another object, it flaked apart easily and it made for an excellent carving tool. Obsidian was another possibility and was a good material to make sharp edges, but it shattered far more easily than flint.
There were two main types of ways to form stone into tools: percussion flaking and pressure flaking. Percussion flaking is done by hitting one object (flint rock for example) with a heavier rock, causing it to chip away or flake. Precise hits with the other stone shaped the flint a certain way, which created a particular pattern needed for the tool. Pressure flaking was more precise than percussion flaking. It was usually done with a hard pointed object, which slowly flaked off smaller pieces, allowing it to be fine-tuned. This was useful in cases where the tool had to have a sharp edge or a specific shape. Often a tool was percussion flaked to start with and then followed up with pressure flaking.
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Hand axes have been around for millions of years in one form or another, even before the Neanderthals appeared. Their version of the hand axe was created using a large rock that was shaped with percussion flaking and would end up in an oval or teardrop shape. Hand axes were generally used for any sort of heavy work, including shaping other tools as well as crushing or chopping up animal meat. They were considered to be one of the most “heavy duty" tools of the time. However, unlike modern hammers and axes, the Mousterian hand axe was not attached to anything - it was simply held in the hand.
Scrapers had also been around for a long time, but they had a much different design than the hand axes. Scrapers were used to remove hair and other obstructions from animal skins before cooking. They were also used for slicing up vegetables and shaping material for clothing. The difference in use was what accounted for the difference in design: instead of being a large piece of stone with big flakes, it was meant to be a flatter, more curved stone so it could cut easier. Pressure flaking was used here to make sure the edges were curved and sharp. Their size varied on their use - some examples were only a few inches long.
Points are what most people think of when they hear the phrase "stone tools." They were what was typically used on spears, arrows and darts, and their size varied by what they were being used for. Their main use for Neanderthals was for taking down large animals, which required a larger and sharper spear. Smaller targets, like birds, would require a smaller spear. Their creation was a combination of both the hand axes and the scrapers, as both types of flaking were used to create the exact shape and point of the spear.
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These types of tools the Neanderthals used served their purpose. They also survived over the centuries and gave us insight into their world and culture by standing the test of time.
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Basic Stone Tools, http://weber.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/arch/tools.html.
Evolution of Modern Humans, http://anthro.palomar.edu/homo2/default.htm.