The main way of gaining insight into the behaviour and neurological faculties of our early ancestors is to study artefactual evidence for the making and use of tools, but this places severe constraints on what knowledge can be obtained. New Caledonian crows, however, offer a potential analogous model system for learning about these difficult-to-establish aspects of prehistoric humans. I found new evidence of human-like specialization in crows' manufacture of hook tools from pandanus leaves: functional lateralization or ‘handedness’ and the shaping of these tools to a rule system. These population-level features are unprecedented in the tool behaviour of free-living non-humans and provide the first demonstration that a population bias for handedness in tool-making and the shaping of tools to rule systems are not concomitant with symbolic thought and language. It is unknown how crows obtain their tool behaviour. Nevertheless, at the least they can be studied in order to learn about the neuropsychology associated with early specialized and/or advanced population features in tool-making such as hook use, handedness and the shaping of tools to rule systems.