Ancient ‘production line’ remnants found

Archeologists' discovery of 400,000-year-old blades questions notion blade production is exclusively linked with recent modern humans.

By
October 4, 2011 04:48
3 minute read.
cutting tools found in Qesem Cave

cutting tools found in Qesem Cave. (photo credit: Pavel Shargo)

 
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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.

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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.

The 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.

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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 explained.

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 hand.

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.

Prof. 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 animals.

According to the researchers, this innovative industry and technology is one of a score of new behaviors exhibited by the inhabitants of Qesem Cave.

“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 places.

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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