Archaeologists in Poland have discovered a giant 60,000-year-old flint workshop that they believe was used by Neanderthals to make thousands of stone tools.
So far, the researchers have recovered some 17,000 stone products from the site, believed to be the first large Neanderthal workshop to be discovered in Central Europe that is not located inside a cave.
Before this discovery, it was thought that such large collections of flint tools weren’t accumulated until much later, among modern humans living between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. Scientists also believed that non-cave-dwelling Neanderthals didn’t settle in one place for long enough to leave much of a mark on their surroundings, beyond individual tools or other artifacts.
The discovery of the 60,000-year-old Neanderthal flint workshop in Pietraszyno challenges both these assumptions.
Since 2018, reported Science in Poland, Dr. Andrzej Wiśniewski from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wrocław has been conducting joint excavations at the site in Pietraszyno (Silesia), along with researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.
"The finds from Pietraszyno completely contradict the old vision of the use of open areas by Neanderthals,” Wiśniewski said. “It appears that in this place a community was present over a longer period, as evidenced by the large number of discovered objects. In addition, there are also preserved remains of mammoth, rhinoceros and horse bones."
He and his fellow archaeologists were also able to trace the process used to make the tools from start to finish, as well as determine which tools had been used and which had not. They believe some of them were used to cut meat, as evidenced by the animal remains found next to them. The fact that very few types of tools were made in the workshop suggests that the tool-making activities “were socially agreed upon and served the common goals,” according to Wiśniewski.
Close relatives of modern humans, Neanderthals are thought to have appeared in Poland around 300,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found older stone tools linked to Neanderthals (200,000 years old) on the Vistula River, while the oldest Neanderthal remains discovered in Poland—the bones of a child’s hand, which had been digested by a large bird—date back more than 100,000 years.
Neanderthals were long assumed to be far more primitive than modern humans, but scientific findings in recent years strongly suggest that the two species were far more alike than we thought, and even interbred on multiple occasions. Research now indicates Neanderthals may have painted on cave walls, known how to start fires and successfully hunted game using spears, among other achievements.
Similarly, the impressive flint workshop discovered in Poland suggests that Neanderthals made tools far earlier than thought, and had a surprisingly well-developed social and territorial structure. "In many respects,” Wiśniewski argued, “it was similar to that of anatomically modern men that came to these areas many millennia later.”