cutting tools found in Qesem Cave.
(photo credit: Pavel Shargo)
Tel Aviv University archeologists have discovered thousands of long, thin
cutting tools at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv.
Their discovery, announced on
Monday, questions the notion that blade production is exclusively linked with
recent modern humans. Thousands of these blades have been discovered at the
site. Because they could be produced so efficiently, they were almost
used as expendable items, they said.
Archeologists have long associated
the production of advanced blades for cutting with the Upper Palaeolithic period
about 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, linked with the emergence of Homo Sapiens and
cultural features such as cave art.
But now, Prof. Avi Gopher, Dr. Ran
Barkai and Dr. Ron Shimelmitz of TAU’s Department of Archeology and Ancient Near
Eastern Civilizations claim to have uncovered evidence showing that “modern”
blade production was also an element of Amudian industry during the late Lower
Paleolithic period some 200,000 to 400,000 years ago as part of the
Acheulo-Yabrudian cultural complex.
This geographically-limited group of
hominins lived in what is now Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, the
archaeologists concluded. Hominini is the tribe of Homininae that comprises Homo
and the two species of the genus Pan (the common chimpanzee and the bonobo),
their ancestors and the extinct lineages of their common ancestor.
blades, described recently in the Journal of Human Evolution
, are the product of
a well- planned “production line,” said Barkai.
Every element of the
blades, from the choice of raw material to the production method itself, points
to a sophisticated tool production system to rival the blade technology used
hundreds of thousands of years later.
Though blades have been found in
earlier archaeological sites in Africa, Barkai and Gopher say those discovered
in Qesem Cave are different due to the sophistication of the technology used for
manufacturing and mass production. Evidence suggests that the process
began with the careful selection of raw materials. The hominins collected
raw material from the surface or quarried it from underground, seeking specific
pieces of flint that would best fit their blade-making technology, Barkai
With the right blocks of material, they were able to use a
systematic and efficient method to produce the desired blades, which involved
powerful and controlled blows that took in to account the mechanics of stone
fracture. Most of the blades were made with one sharp cutting edge and
one naturally dull edge, so they could easily be gripped by a human
This, said the TAU researchers, is perhaps the first time that such
technology was standardized, noted Gopher, who points out that the blades were
produced with relatively small amounts of waste materials. This systematic
industry enabled the inhabitants of the cave to produce tools – normally
considered costly in raw material and time – with relative ease.
Cristina Lemorini from Rome’s Sapienza University conducted a closer analysis
under a microscope of markings on the blades and conducted a series of
experiments determining that the tools were primarily used for butchering
According to the researchers, this innovative industry and
technology is one of a score of new behaviors exhibited by the inhabitants of
“There is clear evidence of daily and habitual use of fire,
which is news to archaeologists,” said Barkai. Previously, it was unknown if the
Amudian culture made use of fire, and to what extent. There is also evidence of
a division of space within the cave, he notes. The cave inhabitants used each
space in a regular manner, conducting specific tasks in predetermined
Hunted prey, for instance, was taken to an appointed area to be
butchered, barbecued and later shared within the group, while the animal hide
was processed elsewhere.
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