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via Sci News: An international team of researchers led by Université de Montréal’s Dr. Luc Doyon has found seven bone soft hammers at the early hominin Lingjing site in Xuchang county of Henan province, China. These 115,000-year-old tools represent the first instance of the use of bone as raw material to modify stone tools found at an East Asian early Late Pleistocene site.

The seven bone tools analyzed by Dr. Doyon and co-authors were excavated between 2005 and 2015 at the Lingjing site.

The team identified three types of bone retouchers — known as soft hammers — that were used to modify stone (or lithic) tools.

The first type was weathered limb bone fragments, mainly from cervid metapodials, marginally shaped by retouching and intensively used on a single area.

The second type was long limb bone flakes resulting from the dismemberment of large mammals, used for quick retouching or resharpening of stone tools.

And the third type was a single specimen of an antler of an axis deer that, close to its tip, shows impact scars produced by percussing various lithic blanks.

“Marks found on the bone fragments show that humans living in China in the early Late Pleistocene were already familiar with the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use them to make tools out of carved stone,” the scientists said.

Using a method called optically stimulated luminescence, the Lingjing tools were dated between 125,000 and 105,000 years old.

“At the time, the Lingjing site was being actively used as a water spring for animals. Prehistoric humans likely used these water supply points for killing and butchering their animal prey,” the researchers said.

Until now, the oldest bone tools discovered in China dated back 35,000 years and consisted of assegai (spear) points.

“Prior to this discovery, research into the technical behavior of humans inhabiting China during this period was almost solely based on the study of tools carved from stone,” Dr. Doyon said.

The team has not yet determined which hominid species the users of the Lingjing tools belonged to, although they do know that they lived during the same period as Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.

“The Lingjing site yielded two incomplete human skulls that suggest interbreeding between this species and Neanderthals,” Dr. Doyon said.

“But this is a hypothesis that remains to be confirmed through further investigation, such as paleogenetic studies.”

The results appear in the journal PLoS ONE.


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