London, June 24 : The discovery of stone tools that are technologically advanced and potentially older than tools belonging to Homo sapiens, has led scientists to suggest that Britain's last Neanderthals were more sophisticated than earlier believed.
The stone tools were found at a site near Pulborough, West Sussex, throwing remarkable new light on the life of northern Europe's last Neanderthals.
According to Dr Matthew Pope of Archaeology South East based at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, "The tools we've found at the site are technologically advanced and potentially older than tools in Britain belonging to our own species, Homo sapiens."
"It's exciting to think that there's a real possibility these were left by some of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy northern Europe," he added.
"The impression they give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology - not a people on the edge of extinction," said Dr Pope.
The team, led by Dr Pope, is undertaking the first modern, scientific investigation of the site since its original discovery in 1900.
During the construction of a monumental house known as 'Beedings', some 2,300 perfectly preserved stone tools were removed from fissures encountered in the foundation trenches.
Only recently were the tools recognised for their importance.
Research by Roger Jacobi of the Leverhulme-funded Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project showed conclusively that the Beedings material has strong affinities with other tools from northern Europe dating back to between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago.
The collection of tools from Beedings is more diverse and extensive than any other found in the region and therefore offers the best insight into the technologically advanced cultures, which occupied Northern Europe before the accepted appearance of our own species.
"The exceptional collection of tools appears to represent the sophisticated hunting kit of Neanderthal populations which were only a few millennia from complete disappearance in the region," said Dr Pope.
"Unlike earlier, more typical Neanderthal tools, these were made with long, straight blades - blades which were then turned into a variety of bone and hide processing implements, as well as lethal spear points," he added.
According to Barney Sloane, Head of Historic Environment Commissions at English Heritage, the tools at Beedings could equally be the signature of pioneer populations of modern humans, or traces of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy the region.
"This study offers a rare chance to answer some crucial questions about just how technologically advanced Neanderthals were, and how they compare with our own species," he added.