Tools and Weapons

Neandertal toolmakers at work

  Neandertals made elaborate stone tools, which were a crucial part of their survival. They served as instruments for hunting, stripping flesh from animals, processing materials, and creating fire. The tool technology more commonly associated with the Neandertals is called Mousterian and lasts from 300,000 years ago until around 27,000 years ago.

Mousterian tool kits consisted of items such as hand axes, choppers, scrapers, backed knives, denticulates, and points. Hand axes, like the image seen at the indentation of every paragraph, were probably widely used in skinning and cutting up game. Choppers were used for smashing bones open to obtain marrow, hacking wood, softening meat, and possibly as a primitive hammer. Scrapers dressed hides and possibly assisted in obtaining meat from bones. Backed knives were made for the ability to easily cut flesh. Deniculates might have been used to carve and shape wood. This would include creating sharp points on Mousterian spears for hunting. Points, on the other hand, were hafted on to the spears. This instrument, used for attack, defense, and hunting, was more than likely thrusted instead of thrown.

These are Mousterian tools photographed by Ian Tattersall. 
From the left to right there is a scraper, and two small hand axes. 
On the top from right to left is another scraper and a flaked point.



Mousterian hand axe

More Mousterian hand axes (source of 1st three images)

Fontmaure Jasper Mousterian Handaxe (80,000 - 40,000 years ago) from Fontmaure, France
Natural openings in the jasper were used as "finger pockets" and are found on both sides.
(c) World Musem of Man,

These implements were created with the Levallois Technique, in which a carefully prepared stone core was made by removing chips from the top and sides. Whole flakes were then struck from the core to be refinished into a variety of specialized tools. In striking these flakes from cores, Neandertals had to have a certain cognitive ability and mental picture of what form they wanted to shape the flake in. They had to know at which angle to make a fine impact, and how hard to hit it, in order to produce the tool they needed. Therefore, Neandertals had the intellect to comprehend the concept of symmetry. Without this, they would not have been able to produce such effective tools. Neandertals also made innovations in their tool technology by being one of the earliest hominins to haft stone and flint points on the edges of wooden spears, creating effective hunting weapons. Other inventive ideas included setting the tip of a wooden spear on fire to make a sharp point, which was also used for hunting.

 From Early Man by F. Clark Howell, 1965

The Levallois Technique. Click on the images for a larger view.


 From Early Man by F. Clark Howell, 1965

From Early Man by F. Clark Howell, 1965
The Levallois Technique. Click on the images for a larger view.

The Levallois Technique for making tools. Click on the images for a larger view.

Prepared cores using the Levallois Technique. Click on the images for a larger view. 
First image modified from
Levallois Points. Click on the images.

Mousterian side scraper
Mousterian notched side scraper
Mousterian scraper
Mousterian scraper from Le Moustier
 Mousterian backed knife

Denticulate, front and back
Denticulate, back and edgw
Retouched levallois flake 


Another tool technology that has recently been credited to Neandertals is the Chatelperronian technique. This technology started from about 32,000 years ago and ended at around 30,000 years ago. The Chatelperronian does have some Mousterian features, but for the most part, many of the tools are made on well struck blades. The main characteristic of this technology is that the typical Chatelperronian knife has a curved back, this is similar to the Mousterian backed knife.

Steps in the creation of blade core technology


These are example of finely crafted Chatelperronian tools. 
The shape of the blades is similar to the Mousterian blade.

There had been some controversy over whether or not Neandertals were 'capable' of creating such an advanced technology. However, with the discovery of the Saint-Cesaire Neandertal, more commonly known as the "last Neandertal," this was changed. It is now believed that these hominids were responsible for the Chatelperronian tool technology. Yet it is still believed by some paleanthropologists that Neandertals were just imitating the technologies of their neighbors, Homo Sapiens.

A final tool implement that Neadertals used were their front teeth. It has been speculated by paleoanthropologists and physical anthropologists that these ancestors used their jaws and teeth as a gripping vice to make tools and hold objects other than food items in their mouths, using their front teeth as anchors. In many skulls, such as Shanidar I, the front teeth are literally worn down to the root. Extensive studies done on the wear patterns of Neandertal teeth reveal that both animal and vegetable material had been pulled out across their clinched teeth. Other microscopic dental studies reveal that items were being held in the mouth and simultaneously cut with stone tools (Stringer 1993). Not only did Neandertals cut materials while holding them in their mouths, but they also used their teeth as an anchor to procure hides with side scrapers. This excessive wear on Neandertal teeth has lead to speculation that hides were processed, while being clenched in their mouth's, by rubbing a scraper back and forth, and up and down. It it obvious from this evidence, that although the invention of the needle did not appear until later, Neandertals probably managed to crudely tie processed hides together with sinews.

A close-up picture taken by Erik Trinkaus reveals 
Shanidar I's excessive tooth wear. Notice how the tooth 
is worn down to the root.

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