Small Flakes Reveal Evidence of Tool Use From 300,000 Years Ago
Tiny flint chips that were dropped by prehistoric people 300,000 years ago when they honed their cutting tools now show how early humans treated wood.
The tiny flakes of flint were found at the Lower Paleolithic Schöningen site in Lower Saxony. This location is around two meters below the well-known location of the earliest spears ever found. The information found from the tiny flakes has now been examined by a multidisciplinary team and Scientific Reports1 has published the study.
The skeleton of a Eurasian straight-tusked elephant, who had died on the bank of a lake some 300,000 years ago, was found along side 57 small stone chips and three bone tools for re-sharpening stone tools. Near the elephant carcass were most likely early Neanderthals or Homo heidelbergensis. Even though they are little and truly just a result of tool manufacturing, we have a tendency to think that large tools like knives, scrapers, and points are more important than simple flakes.
However, when viewed in the context of the total body of evidence, even minuscule stone chips can reveal a great deal about our ancestors' way of life. The majority of the analyzed shards were less than one centimeter in size.
The authors came to the conclusion that the tiny flakes came from knife-like tools and were knocked off during re-sharpening through the use of a multidisciplinary approach that included technological and spatial analysis, the study of residues and signs of use, and methods of experimental archaeology. When the people walked on with their tools, the chips remained on the ground where they had fallen.
15 of the pieces exhibited wear consistent with working with raw wood. What had been the tool edges still had microscopic wood fragments affixed to them. Moreover, micro use-wear on a piece of sharp-edged natural flint demonstrated that it was used to sever fresh animal tissue. The elephant was probably butchered using a flint.
These findings add to the body of data supporting Schöningen's numerous assertions that stone, bone, and plant technology were used in concert 300,000 years ago. This study demonstrates how thorough examinations of micro- and trace-residues can yield information from usually disregarded tiny objects. This is the first study to use re-sharpening flakes that are 300,000 years old to generate such thorough results. The handling of the artifacts with considerable caution from excavation to analysis is a need for this type of research.
Venditti, F., Rodríguez-Álvarez, B., Serangeli, J., Cesaro, S. N., Walter, R., & Conard, N. J. (2022). Using microartifacts to infer Middle Pleistocene lifeways at Schöningen, Germany. Scientific Reports, 12(1), 21148. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-24769-3