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Le Moustier Neanderthals, AMNH By Charles Knight.

New research suggests Neanderthal children played with toy axes


Last week, we reported on a new study published in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology that revealed that Neanderthals were no strangers to good parenting. Their research indicated that Neanderthal children experienced strong emotional attachments with their immediate social group, were cared for when they were sick, and played a key role in society. Now the study authors have also revealed evidence that suggests Neanderthal children played with toy axes and were taught how to make tools.

Penny Spikins, a researcher in human origins at York University, has referred to three sites where toy-like hand axes were found. At one site in France and another in Belgium, stones were found that had been skilfully crafted alongside others that were inexpertly chipped, as if by learning children. This supports previous research by Dick Stapert (2007), who refers to very small artifacts containing what he calls ‘flint failures’, as well as a miniature hand-axe only 4.4 cm long, which may have been an instructional toy made by an adult for a child. In a paper titled ‘Neanderthal children and their flints’, Stapert says, “Very small artefacts - too small to be of use - may be products of learners, especially if they show beginner’s marks. The small size would have been an adaptation to the small hands of children.”

Neanderthal stone axe head

An example of a Neanderthal stone axe head made by a skill craftsman. Photo source.

Ms Spikins suggests that taken collectively, the evidence suggests that Neanderthal children were schooled in how to make tools. "Learning how to make hand axes may have been part of the adult sculpting of emotional self-control in children," said Spikins.

In his 2007 paper, Stapert explained that the discovery of stone tools that appear to have been made by inexperienced beginners makes sense when considering the role of children in Neanderthal society:

“The realization that children must be responsible for quite a few flint artefacts may help to understand not only some typological aberrations (e.g. pic-like tools), but also the reason why some sites make a ‘primitive’ impression. Taking into account the activities of children will make our reconstructions of the past not only more plausible and complete, but also more lively and interesting.”

Top image: Le Moustier Neanderthals, AMNH By Charles Knight. (1920) (Public Domain)

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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