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Stone Age recyclers

It is clear that during the Upper Palaeolithic Age - 50 000 to 10 000 years ago - the world was not as we know it today. The Americas were being colonised as people crossed the Bering land bridge, where the 53 km Bering Strait between Russia and the United States now lies. And...

It is clear that during the Upper Palaeolithic Age - 50 000 to 10 000 years ago - the world was not as we know it today. The Americas were being colonised as people crossed the Bering land bridge, where the 53 km Bering Strait between Russia and the United States now lies. And while societies were hunter gatherer in nature, regional identities began to appear as stone tool types started to vary to suit different environments. It was also, it now appears, when humans began recycling. The revelation that humans from the Upper Palaeolithic Age recycled their stone artefacts to be put to other uses came from a study conducted at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili and the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES). The study's conclusion is based on burnt artefacts found in the Molí del Salt site in Tarragona, Spain. Due to the difficulties inherent in verifying such practices in archaeological records, analysis of recycling stone tools during Prehistoric times has barely been addressed. However, as demonstrated in the study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, it is possible to find some evidence. 'In order to identify the recycling, it is necessary to differentiate the two stages of the manipulation sequence of an object: the moment before it is altered and the moment after. The two are separated by an interval in which the artefact has undergone some form of alteration. This is the first time a systematic study of this type has been performed,' explains Manuel Vaquero, researcher at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili. The archaeologists had discovered a high percentage of burnt remains in the Molí del Salt site (Tarragona), which they were able to date back to the end of the Upper Palaeolithic Age some 13 000 years ago. 'We chose these burnt artefacts because they can tell us in a very simple way whether they have been modified after being exposed to fire,' the researcher goes on to add. The results indicate that the recycling of tools was normal during the Upper Palaeolithic Age. However, this practice is not documented in the same way as other types of artefacts. The use of recycled tools was more common for domestic activities and seems to be associated with immediate needs. What the scientists realised is that specialised tools, such as those used for hunting, like projectile points for instance, were almost never made from recycled artefacts. In contrast, dual function artefacts (those that combine two tools in the same item) were recycled more often. 'This indicates that a large part of these tools were not conceived from the outset as double artefacts but a single tool was made first and a second was added later when the artefact was recycled,' outlines the researcher. The history of the artefacts and the sequence of changes that they have undergone over time are fundamental in understanding their final morphology. According to Vaquero, 'in terms of the objects, this is mostly important from a cultural value point of view, especially in periods like the Upper Palaeolithic Age, in which it is thought that the sharper the object the sharper the mind.' Reusing resources meant that humans from the Upper Palaeolithic Age did not have to move around to find raw materials to make their tools - a task that could have taken them far away from camp. 'They would simply take an artefact abandoned by those groups who previously inhabited the site.' 'It bears economic importance too, since it would have increased the availability of lithic resources, especially during times of scarcity. In addition, it is a relevant factor for interpreting sites because they become not just places to live but also places of resource provision,' states the researcher. Vaquero and the team believe that this practice needs to be borne in mind when analysing the site. 'Those populating these areas could have moved objects from where they were originally located. They even could have dug up or removed sediments in search of tools,' he adds.For more information, please visit:Universitat Rovira i Virgili:http://www.urv.cat/en_index.htmlJournal of Archaeological Science:http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-archaeological-science/

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