Tool-using humans half a million years ago?

The Jerusalem Post reports

Fish and crab bones, stone tools and pieces of wood used for fuel dating back to 750,000 years ago have been found by Hebrew University of Jerusalem archeologists in the Bnot Ya’acov Bridge area in the northern Jordan Valley – providing evidence, they claim, of “advanced human behavior” 500,000 years before it was previously believed to have existed.

A study by researchers at HU’s archeology institute that discusses the find has just appeared in the prestigious journal Science.

The actual paper, if you have access to the journal, can be read here.

When the archeologists analyzed the spatial distribution of what they found, they said they discovered a specific pattern in which activities were carried out, rather than haphazard evidence. This kind of designation, they wrote in the paper, “indicates a formalized conceptualization of living space, requiring social organization and communication between group members. Such organizational skills are thought to be unique to modern humans.”

Until now, attempts to trace the origins of such behavior at various prehistoric sites in the world have concentrated on spatial analyses of Middle Paleolithic sites dating back only to some 250,000 years ago, the authors maintained.

The high density of fish remains at Gesher Bnot Ya’acov indicated that the processing and consumption of many fish were carried out in this area – “one of the earliest evidences for fish consumption by prehistoric people anywhere.”

n a second area, they saw evidence of more varied domestic activities, “all of which took place in the vicinity of a hearth. The many wood pieces found in this area were used as fuel for the fire. Processing of basalt and limestone was spatially restricted to the hearth area, where activities indicate the use of large stone tools such as hand axes, chopping tools, scrapers and awls. The presence of stone hammers, and in particular of pitted anvils (used as nutting stones), suggest that nut processing was carried out near the hearth and may have involved the use of nut roasting. In addition, fish and crabs were probably consumed near the hearth.”

The article does raise some doubts — it all sounds a bit too se non e vero e bene trovato. (“If if’s not true, it was well invented” — Dante).


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