NEANDERTHALS may have invented specialised bone tools and passed their know-how on to the ancestors of modern humans, research suggests.

The discovery adds to growing evidence the Neanderthals had a high level of technological ability.

Scientists found the 50,000-year-old tools from two neighbouring sites in south-west France. Made from deer ribs, they are ­similar to the bone lissoirs, or smoothers, still used by leather workers.

The implements have a polished tip that, when pushed against a hide, creates softer and more water resistant leather.

The excavated tools are similar to others found at sites occupied by early modern humans at a later stage, who replaced Neanderthals in Europe around 40,000 years ago.

"If Neanderthals developed this type of bone tool on their own, it is possible that modern humans then acquired this technology from Neanderthals," said Dr Marie Soressi, one of the researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Another possibility is that early modern humans started influencing Neanderthal behaviour earlier than has been thought, said the scientists writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.