Researchers Find 80,000 Year Old Bone Tools
These tools were probably used to dig holes in the ground and to debark trees.
Bone tools were previously thought to have been a modern human invention that was introduced to Europe some 40,000 years ago. But the discover of bone tools dating back 100,000 years, have been found in many African locations as a result of research conducted over the past 20 years. These early bone tools, however, are uncommon and have irregular shapes.
The finding of 23 bone tools with flattened ogival-shaped ends from the Sibudu rock shelter in Kwa Zulu-Natal, South Africa, changes the picture. These tools were discovered in geological layers that date to between 80,000 and 60,000 years ago. The technology and use of the oldest fully formed bone tools from this location are described in the recent paperthat announced this discovery.
A confocal microscope was used to analyze the usage wear of archeological and experimental items for the study. The researchers were able to measure the roughness parameters of the wear that usage had left on the tool tips as a result. The majority of the bone tools were likely utilized for debarking tasks and may have been used for digging in nutrient soil to extract roots or underground storage organs, according to textural and discriminant analyses. The findings show that the Sibudu double-beveled tools were employed for functions devoted to digging up roots rather than for activities related to hunting or the preparation of hides, which are duties the earliest bone tools have usually been linked with.
The researchers point out that despite the fact that the site's inhabitants fundamentally altered their method of producing stone tools during this time, this sort of tool was nevertheless used there for 20,000 years. Due of their rarity, these bone tools undoubtedly represent a local cultural adaption to a particular environment. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that some modern human populations in southern Africa have kept and developed particular, highly standardized cultural features while also sharing others. This suggests that peoples of the Middle Stone Age had networks that allowed them to share identical technologies, cultural norms, and cutting-edge discoveries over vast swaths of land while yet preserving regional cultural characteristics and customs.
Despite not being edible, the bark of the trees utilized in the debarking trials by the researchers is still employed in traditional African medicine. Early modern humans in Southern Africa may have utilized the bark for similar purposes 80,000 years ago. This study provides evidence that populations living in the Middle Stone Age already had sophisticated technical systems in place to aid in resource gathering.
d'Errico et al. Technological and functional analysis of 80–60 ka bone wedges from Sibudu (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), Scientific Reports, vol. 12, 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-20680-z