Saturday, 22 October 2011

New Archaeological Evidence For An Ancient Stone Tool Production Line

The creation of stone tools was one of the most vital steps in human evolution. They allowed us to become top predators in any ecosystem we inhabited. The first stone tools were very basic, such as simple rock hammers and very crude blades. Yet these simple tools quickly evolved into more complex forms.  However archaeological evidence suggests that, while complex, effective stone tools did appear millions of years after their creation, effective methods for creating them appeared far earlier.

Stone tools from the Qesem Cave, Tel Aviv, Israel
Researchers from the Tel Aviv University, Israel, found a series of large, slender cutting blades, all of similar size, at the Qesem Cave just outside of Tel Aviv. Each blade has a naturally sharp edge and a dull edge, making it easy to be gripped by a human hand. They all date to between 400,000 and 200,000 years old, and were part of a Middle Eastern stone tool industry called the Amudian. Each element of the creation process was present from the flint cores, the rough-outs to the completed tools.

Each element was very similar, suggesting a standard to which each tool was made. There is evidence also of divisions within the cave, containing a particular concentration of the elements in the stone tool process. When the researchers combined these traits, they came to the conclusion that this cave was used as a very efficient stone tool production line. Thousands of stone tools were found which suggests that they were dispensable items. A microscopic study of the blades showed that they were used for butchering meat.

The discovery is very interesting because of the age of the tools. They were made between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago. As the tools were made before Homo sapiens evolved, their complex creation process shows that our human ancestors were more intelligent than previously thought. It is hoped that in the future stone tools will be analysed more carefully to find more complex layers of information which show the evolution of humans and their early environment.