Archaeologists have examined a large assemblage of 45,000-year-old stone tools and by-products of tool-making process from the site of Heidenschmiede in the Swabian Jura, southwestern Germany.
Heidenschmiede is a rockshelter, just below the castle of Hellenstein in the city of Heidenheim at the Brenz river in the eastern part of the Swabian Jura.
The site was discovered in 1928 and excavated in 1930 by the German amateur archaeologist Hermann Mohn.
“Since the appearance of a first publication on the finds in 1931, little has happened with this research,” said co-author Dr. Benjamin Schürch, a researcher in the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology in the Institute of Prehistory, Early History and Medieval Archeology at the University of Tübingen.
“Our study is the first detailed investigation since then that deals with the many finds and classifies them in more detail.”
“The bone and stone tools date from the Middle Paleolithic, and are at least 50,000 to 42,000 years old.”
“In this period, modern humans of our current species Homo sapiens were yet to come to the region. It was Late Neanderthals living at Heidenschmiede.”
Neanderthals produced stone blades, scrapers, single-edged handaxes, and spearheads.
“It was known that they used various strategies to make such tools,” said lead author Dr. Berrin Çep, also from the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology in the Institute of Prehistory, Early History and Medieval Archeology at the University of Tübingen.
“We have been seeking to refit individual pieces in order to better understand how Heidenschmiede people worked.”
“In some cases, we have been able to trace in detail how other basic shapes, such as flakes and blades, were first made from stone cores and how these were further processed into tools.”
Based on the reconstructions, the scientists were able to show that Neanderthals at Heidenschmiede used a branched manufacturing system in which various techniques were applied to one core piece of stone.
“Such sophisticated manufacturing processes have only rarely been attested from the Middle Paleolithic,” Dr. Schürch said.
“This is the first such evidence from the Swabian Jura,” said senior author Dr. Jens Axel Frick, also from the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology in the Institute of Prehistory, Early History and Medieval Archeology at the University of Tübingen.
“Whoever worked the raw material was able to consider from the outset that parts of the stone could be further worked using a different technique.”
“This requires strong 3D visualization, creativity and mentally flexible planning,” Dr. Çep added.
The team’s work was published in the journal PLoS ONE.
B. Çep et al. 2021. Adaptive capacity and flexibility of the Neanderthals at Heidenschmiede (Swabian Jura) with regard to core reduction strategies. PLoS ONE 16 (9): e0257041; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257041