Sophisticated leather-working equipment found in a cave in France could be evidence that Neanderthals had more advanced bone tools than early modern humans.
Four fragments of hide-softening bone tools, were found at Pech-de-l'Az I and Abri Peyrony, two neighbouring sites in southwestern France.
Scientists said the tools which have smooth edges and rounded tips are about 50,000 years old.
That would make them the oldest known bone tools in Europe, made well before modern humans replaced Neanderthals some 40,000 years ago.
Neanderthals are better known for using stone tools and many archeologists have believed that more advanced bone tool use was introduced to Neanderthals by modern humans.
"For now the bone tools from these two sites are one of the better pieces of evidence we have for Neanderthals developing on their own a technology previously associated only with modern humans," said lead author Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
But researchers also cannot rule out the possibility that modern humans entered Europe earlier than thought and passed on this technology to Neanderthals.
However, the artefacts were uncovered in places that show no evidence of any other cultures.