Neanderthals lived in Grotta di Sant'Agostino between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Enlarge / Neanderthals lived in Grotta di Sant’Agostino between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago. (credit: Degano et al. 2019)

Neanderthals glued their stone tools into place on wooden handles, a new study suggests. Archaeologists found chemical traces of pine resin on 10 stone tools from Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino, on the western coast of central Italy. That’s pretty solid evidence that Neanderthals living in Italy were hafting their stone tools and securing them in place with resin between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago—long before Homo sapiens set foot in Europe.

Getting a grip on stone tools

For around three million years, hominins had been shaping various cutting, pounding, and scraping tools out of stone, but something was still missing. Imagine trying to skin and butcher a deer using a knife with no handle, and you’ve got life for most of hominin history. Hafting tools was a major improvement.

Typically, hafting a stone tool involves fitting it into a notch or slot in a wooden handle; the tool-maker might then lash it into place with tightly wrapped sinews or plant fibers. But people also use tree resin or pitch as a glue to help hold the tool in place.

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