Understanding Stone Tools and Archaeological Sites

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The flakes show signs of being struck from a prepared stone core, which is a fairly advanced technique usually attributed to modern humans or Neanderthals. But Roberts says that, at , to , years ago, the toolmakers were more likely members of earlier hominin species like Homo erectus the earliest modern human fossils found in Africa date to just , years ago. Ancient environmental records in the bones that lay alongside the long-discarded tools suggest that the Nefud was a very different place at the time. When modern humans began slowly spreading across the globe sometime before , years ago, they encountered other members of the genus Homo who had ventured forth much earlier, starting with Homo erectus around 1.

Some paleoanthropologists, including Roberts and his colleagues, say that our predecessors stuck to familiar patchwork landscapes of grasslands and trees, situated near lakes or rivers, while modern humans had a unique knack for adapting to a wide range of extreme environments, from deserts to tropical forests to the cold of Siberia.

But others have pointed to the wide spread of certain extinct groups as evidence that they were, in fact, every bit as adaptable as we are. To settle that debate, scientists need to understand what the environment was like hundreds of thousands of years ago, during the Middle Pleistocene. Roberts and his colleagues used those chemical signatures to reconstruct an ancient environment that looked surprisingly like the humid savanna of modern East Africa.

Most trees, herbs, shrubs, and shade-tolerant grasses store carbon using one chemical pathway, called C3, while most grasses and sedges use a different pathway, called C4.

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Each method results in a different ratio of the isotope carbon to other stable isotopes of carbon in the plants' tissues, and those ratios get passed along to animals that graze on the plants. This neuroimaging technique is like MRI, but allows subjects to move freely. She believes that Acheulean tools mark a turning point in our evolution from ape-like to human-like brains. By Bridget Alex Friday, October 06, Kent State University archaeologist Metin I.

Eren takes aim with the Spot Hogg Hooter Shooter, a modern automatic bow launcher testing an ancient weapon: an arrow tipped with a stone point. As early as 3. For the next 99 percent of our time on this planet, our ancestors depended on stones to survive: for hunting, food preparation, constructing clothes and shelter.

While artifacts made of wood and other perishable materials degraded, those made from rock endured. Thus, stone tools provide the richest record of human behavior across time and space. Archaeologists have dug up billions of them. Eren's lab produces and tests a variety of tools, including replica Clovis points. Though tedious, this methodology of refitting has proven essential for understanding stone tool production.

Some reassembled cores have dozens of pieces, each a step in a complicated sequence of premeditated maneuvers. Know Your Gunk Replication experiments demonstrate what different types of stone tools could have done, but they do not reveal what any particular artifact did. She became intrigued by the possibility that artifacts might preserve particles from softer materials they once contacted, such as animal hides and wood. Chimpanzees and some monkeys use tools to a limited extent; they crack open hard-shelled foods with stones as natural hammers and anvils.

Pre-human ancestors began breaking rocks to get sharp edges as early as 3. But a major innovation transpired around 1. In a study, anthropologist Shelby Putt monitored the brain activity of volunteers trained to make stone tools. When participants made Oldowan tools, brain areas lit up related to vision and movement. Chimps smashing nuts probably engage this level of cognition. Acheulean toolmaking, however, required integration of higher-order regions that are responsible for sensory and motor control, memory and planning.

You might also like. Scientists Want Them Back. Could We Travel Through a Wormhole? Starting from about 4 million years ago mya a single biome established itself from South Africa through the rift, North Africa, and across Asia to modern China, which has been called "transcontinental 'savannahstan'" recently. The oldest indirect evidence found of stone tool use is fossilised animal bones with tool marks; these are 3.

The oldest stone tools were excavated from the site of Lomekwi 3 in West Turkana , northwestern Kenya, and date to 3. All the tools come from the Busidama Formation, which lies above a disconformity , or missing layer, which would have been from 2. The oldest sites containing tools are dated to 2. Excavators at the locality point out that: [8]. The species who made the Pliocene tools remains unknown. Fragments of Australopithecus garhi , Australopithecus aethiopicus [9] and Homo , possibly Homo habilis , have been found in sites near the age of the Gona tools. In July , scientists reported the discovery in China of the oldest stone tools outside Africa, estimated at 2.

Innovation of the technique of smelting ore ended the Stone Age and began the Bronze Age. The first most significant metal manufactured was bronze , an alloy of copper and tin , each of which was smelted separately. The transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age was a period during which modern people could smelt copper, but did not yet manufacture bronze, a time known as the Copper Age , or more technically the Chalcolithic , "copper-stone" age.

The Chalcolithic by convention is the initial period of the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age. The Americas notably did not develop a widespread behavior of smelting Bronze or Iron after the Stone Age period, although the technology existed.

In Europe and North America, millstones were in use until well into the 20th century, and still are in many parts of the world. The terms "Stone Age", "Bronze Age", and "Iron Age" were never meant to suggest that advancement and time periods in prehistory are only measured by the type of tool material, rather than, for example, social organization , food sources exploited, adaptation to climate, adoption of agriculture, cooking, settlement and religion.

Like pottery , the typology of the stone tools combined with the relative sequence of the types in various regions provide a chronological framework for the evolution of man and society.

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They serve as diagnostics of date, rather than characterizing the people or the society. Lithic analysis is a major and specialised form of archaeological investigation. It involves the measurement of the stone tools to determine their typology, function and the technology involved. It includes scientific study of the lithic reduction of the raw materials, examining how the artifacts were made. Much of this study takes place in the laboratory in the presence of various specialists.

In experimental archaeology , researchers attempt to create replica tools, to understand how they were made. Flintknappers are craftsmen who use sharp tools to reduce flintstone to flint tool. In addition to lithic analysis, the field prehistorian utilizes a wide range of techniques derived from multiple fields. The work of the archaeologist in determining the paleocontext and relative sequence of the layers is supplemented by the efforts of the geologic specialist in identifying layers of rock over geologic time, of the paleontological specialist in identifying bones and animals, of the palynologist in discovering and identifying plant species, of the physicist and chemist in laboratories determining dates by the carbon , potassium-argon and other methods.

Study of the Stone Age has never been mainly about stone tools and archaeology, which are only one form of evidence. The chief focus has always been on the society and the physical people who belonged to it. Useful as it has been, the concept of the Stone Age has its limitations. The date range of this period is ambiguous, disputed, and variable according to the region in question. While it is possible to speak of a general 'stone age' period for the whole of humanity, some groups never developed metal- smelting technology, so remained in a 'stone age' until they encountered technologically developed cultures.

The term was innovated to describe the archaeological cultures of Europe. It may not always be the best in relation to regions such as some parts of the Indies and Oceania, where farmers or hunter-gatherers used stone for tools until European colonisation began. The archaeologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries CE, who adapted the three-age system to their ideas, hoped to combine cultural anthropology and archaeology in such a way that a specific contemporaneous tribe can be used to illustrate the way of life and beliefs of the people exercising a specific Stone-Age technology.

As a description of people living today, the term stone age is controversial. The Association of Social Anthropologists discourages this use, asserting: [15]. To describe any living group as 'primitive' or 'Stone Age' inevitably implies that they are living representatives of some earlier stage of human development that the majority of humankind has left behind.

In the s, South African archaeologists organizing the stone tool collections of that country observed that they did not fit the newly detailed Three-Age System. In the words of J. Desmond Clark , [16]. It was early realized that the threefold division of culture into Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages adopted in the nineteenth century for Europe had no validity in Africa outside the Nile valley. Consequently, they proposed a new system for Africa, the Three-stage System. There are in effect two Stone Ages, one part of the Three-age and the other constituting the Three-stage.

They refer to one and the same artifacts and the same technologies, but vary by locality and time. The three-stage system was proposed in by Astley John Hilary Goodwin, a professional archaeologist, and Clarence van Riet Lowe , a civil engineer and amateur archaeologist, in an article titled "Stone Age Cultures of South Africa" in the journal Annals of the South African Museum. He therefore proposed a relative chronology of periods with floating dates, to be called the Earlier and Later Stone Age.

The Middle Stone Age would not change its name, but it would not mean Mesolithic. The duo thus reinvented the Stone Age. In Sub-Saharan Africa, however, iron-working technologies were either invented independently or came across the Sahara from the north see iron metallurgy in Africa. The Neolithic was characterized primarily by herding societies rather than large agricultural societies, and although there was copper metallurgy in Africa as well as bronze smelting, archaeologists do not currently recognize a separate Copper Age or Bronze Age.

Moreover, the technologies included in those 'stages', as Goodwin called them, were not exactly the same. Since then, the original relative terms have become identified with the technologies of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic, so that they are no longer relative.

Moreover, there has been a tendency to drop the comparative degree in favor of the positive: resulting in two sets of Early, Middle and Late Stone Ages of quite different content and chronologies. By voluntary agreement, [ citation needed ] archaeologists respect the decisions of the Pan-African Congress on Prehistory , which meets every four years to resolve archaeological business brought before it. Delegates are actually international; the organization takes its name from the topic. It adopted Goodwin and Lowe's 3-stage system at that time, the stages to be called Early, Middle and Later.

The problem of the transitions in archaeology is a branch of the general philosophic continuity problem, which examines how discrete objects of any sort that are contiguous in any way can be presumed to have a relationship of any sort. In archaeology, the relationship is one of causality. The problem is in the nature of this boundary.

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If there is no distinct boundary, then the population of A suddenly stopped using the customs characteristic of A and suddenly started using those of B, an unlikely scenario in the process of evolution. If transitions do not exist, then there is no proof of any continuity between A and B. The Stone Age of Europe is characteristically in deficit of known transitions.

The 19th and early 20th-century innovators of the modern three-age system recognized the problem of the initial transition, the "gap" between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic. Louis Leakey provided something of an answer by proving that man evolved in Africa. The Stone Age must have begun there to be carried repeatedly to Europe by migrant populations. The different phases of the Stone Age thus could appear there without transitions.

The burden on African archaeologists became all the greater, because now they must find the missing transitions in Africa. The problem is difficult and ongoing. The chronologic basis for definition was entirely relative. With the arrival of scientific means of finding an absolute chronology, the two intermediates turned out to be will-of-the-wisps. They were in fact Middle and Lower Paleolithic. Fauresmith is now considered to be a facies of Acheulean , while Sangoan is a facies of Lupemban. Once seriously questioned, the intermediates did not wait for the next Pan African Congress two years hence, but were officially rejected in again on an advisory basis by Burg Wartenstein Conference 29, Systematic Investigation of the African Later Tertiary and Quaternary , [22] a conference in anthropology held by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, at Burg Wartenstein Castle, which it then owned in Austria, attended by the same scholars that attended the Pan African Congress, including Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey , who was delivering a pilot presentation of her typological analysis of Early Stone Age tools, to be included in her contribution to Olduvai Gorge , "Excavations in Beds I and II, — In Jens Jacob Worsaae first proposed a division of the Stone Age into older and younger parts based on his work with Danish kitchen middens that began in The major subdivisions of the Three-age Stone Age cross two epoch boundaries on the geologic time scale :.

The succession of these phases varies enormously from one region and culture to another. At sites dating from the Lower Paleolithic Period about 2,, to , years ago , simple pebble tools have been found in association with the remains of what may have been the earliest human ancestors. A somewhat more sophisticated Lower Paleolithic tradition, known as the Chopper chopping-tool industry, is widely distributed in the Eastern Hemisphere.

This tradition is thought to have been the work of the hominin species named Homo erectus. Although no such fossil tools have yet been found, it is believed that H. About , years ago, a new Lower Paleolithic tool, the hand ax, appeared. The earliest European hand axes are assigned to the Abbevillian industry , which developed in northern France in the valley of the Somme River ; a later, more refined hand-axe tradition is seen in the Acheulian industry , evidence of which has been found in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Lithics and Lithic Analysis

Some of the earliest known hand axes were found at Olduvai Gorge Tanzania in association with remains of H. Alongside the hand-axe tradition there developed a distinct and very different stone-tool industry, based on flakes of stone: special tools were made from worked carefully shaped flakes of flint. In Europe, the Clactonian industry is one example of a flake tradition.

The early flake industries probably contributed to the development of the Middle Paleolithic flake tools of the Mousterian industry, which is associated with the remains of Neanderthal man. The earliest documented stone tools have been found in eastern Africa, manufacturers unknown, at the 3. The tools were formed by knocking pieces off a river pebble, or stones like it, with a hammerstone to obtain large and small pieces with one or more sharp edges. The original stone is called a core; the resultant pieces, flakes. Typically, but not necessarily, small pieces are detached from a larger piece, in which case the larger piece may be called the core and the smaller pieces the flakes.

The prevalent usage, however, is to call all the results flakes, which can be confusing. A split in half is called bipolar flaking. Consequently, the method is often called "core-and-flake". More recently, the tradition has been called "small flake" since the flakes were small compared to subsequent Acheulean tools. Pebble cores are Various refinements in the shape have been called choppers, discoids, polyhedrons, subspheroid, etc. To date no reasons for the variants have been ascertained: [29].

However, they would not have been manufactured for no purpose: [29]. Pebble cores can be useful in many cutting, scraping or chopping tasks, but The whole point of their utility is that each is a "sharp-edged rock" in locations where nature has not provided any. There is additional evidence that Oldowan, or Mode 1, tools were utilized in "percussion technology"; that is, they were designed to be gripped at the blunt end and strike something with the edge, from which use they were given the name of choppers.

Modern science has been able to detect mammalian blood cells on Mode 1 tools at Sterkfontein , Member 5 East, in South Africa. As the blood must have come from a fresh kill, the tool users are likely to have done the killing and used the tools for butchering. Plant residues bonded to the silicon of some tools confirm the use to chop plants.

Although the exact species authoring the tools remains unknown, Mode 1 tools in Africa were manufactured and used predominantly by Homo habilis. They cannot be said to have developed these tools or to have contributed the tradition to technology. They continued a tradition of yet unknown origin. As chimpanzees sometimes naturally use percussion to extract or prepare food in the wild, and may use either unmodified stones or stones that they have split, creating an Oldowan tool, the tradition may well be far older than its current record. Towards the end of Oldowan in Africa a new species appeared over the range of Homo habilis : Homo erectus.

The most immediate cause of the new adjustments appears to have been an increasing aridity in the region and consequent contraction of parkland savanna , interspersed with trees and groves, in favor of open grassland, dated 1. According to the current evidence which may change at any time Mode 1 tools are documented from about 2.

According to this chronology Mode 1 was inherited by Homo from unknown Hominans , probably Australopithecus and Paranthropus , who must have continued on with Mode 1 and then with Mode 2 until their extinction no later than 1. Meanwhile, living contemporaneously in the same regions H. At about 1. Mode 1 was now being shared by a number of Hominans over the same ranges, presumably subsisting in different niches, but the archaeology is not precise enough to say which. Tools of the Oldowan tradition first came to archaeological attention in Europe, where, being intrusive and not well defined, compared to the Acheulean, they were puzzling to archaeologists.

The mystery would be elucidated by African archaeology at Olduvai, but meanwhile, in the early 20th century, the term "Pre-Acheulean" came into use in climatology. P, Brooks, a British climatologist working in the United States, used the term to describe a "chalky boulder clay" underlying a layer of gravel at Hoxne , central England, where Acheulean tools had been found.

Hugo Obermaier , a contemporary German archaeologist working in Spain, quipped:. Unfortunately, the stage of human industry which corresponds to these deposits cannot be positively identified. All we can say is that it is pre-Acheulean. This uncertainty was clarified by the subsequent excavations at Olduvai; nevertheless, the term is still in use for pre-Acheulean contexts, mainly across Eurasia, that are yet unspecified or uncertain but with the understanding that they are or will turn out to be pebble-tool.

There are ample associations of Mode 2 with H.

One strong piece of evidence prevents the conclusion that only H. If the date is correct, either another Hominan preceded H. After the initial appearance at Gona in Ethiopia at 2. The manufacturers had already left pebble tools at Yiron , Israel, at 2. Erectus was found also at Dmanisi , Georgia, from 1. Pebble tools are found the latest first in southern Europe and then in northern.

Stone Age - Wikipedia

They begin in the open areas of Italy and Spain, the earliest dated to 1. The mountains of Italy are rising at a rapid rate in the framework of geologic time; at 1. Europe was otherwise mountainous and covered over with dense forest, a formidable terrain for warm-weather savanna dwellers. Similarly there is no evidence that the Mediterranean was passable at Gibraltar or anywhere else to H. They might have reached Italy and Spain along the coasts. In northern Europe pebble tools are found earliest at Happisburgh , United Kingdom, from 0.

The last traces are from Kent's Cavern , dated 0. By that time H. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries archaeologists worked on the assumptions that a succession of Hominans and cultures prevailed, that one replaced another. Today the presence of multiple hominans living contemporaneously near each other for long periods is accepted as proved true; moreover, by the time the previously assumed "earliest" culture arrived in northern Europe, the rest of Africa and Eurasia had progressed to the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, so that across the earth all three were for a time contemporaneous.