Unraveling the Past: Ancient Ivory Baton Reveals Surprising Purpose in Rope-Making
Decoding the Mysteries of a 37,000-Year-Old Tool
In a remarkable revelation, researchers from the University of Tübingen challenge the conventional view of an ancient ivory baton discovered in Germany's Hohle Fels cave. Previously believed to be a mere work of art, this 37,000-year-old artifact now emerges as a sophisticated tool for crafting rope. Published in Science Advances1, the study by Nicholas Conard and Veerle Rots presents a groundbreaking experiment involving a meticulously crafted replica.
Unveiling the Enigma
Back in 2015, ivory fragments surfaced in Hohle Fels, showcasing signs of intricate workmanship. Dated to around 37,000 years ago, these pieces were attributed to the skilled hands of early modern humans. Traditionally deemed artistic expressions, the ivory items took center stage in this study, challenging preconceptions.
Bridging Art and Utility
The pivotal piece, resembling a modern cricket bat with four holes through its flattest part, triggered curiosity. Conard and Rots hypothesized a utilitarian function—rope-making. To test their theory, they meticulously replicated the baton and embarked on a journey through materials such as nettles, willow, linden, cattail, hemp, flax, and deer sinew.
Crafting the Past
The experiment unveiled the baton's proficiency in rope creation. Employing a technique akin to twining or braiding, individual strands passed through the carved holes remained securely in place. As the strands converged, a counterpart on the opposite side deftly intertwined them, birthing a well-crafted rope.
Tracing the Traces
A closer inspection of the original baton divulged wear on hole edges and grooves, indicative of repetitive use. Residue analysis on the hole walls pointed towards the presence of plant materials, aligning seamlessly with the hypothesis of its role in rope fabrication.
Echoes from Antiquity
This revelation not only reshapes our understanding of ancient artifacts but also highlights the resourcefulness and ingenuity of our ancestors. The ivory baton, once considered a silent relic of artistry, now echoes the industrious efforts of early humans, leaving an indelible mark on the tapestry of our shared history.
Conard, N. J., & Rots, V. (2024). Rope making in the Aurignacian of Central Europe more than 35,000 years ago. Science Advances, 10(5). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.adh5217