15 December 2007
Prehistoric toolkit unearthed in Jordan
Before the end of the last ice age, a hunter-gatherer left a bag of tools near the wall of a roundhouse residence, where archaeologists have now found the collection 14,000 years later. The tool set - one of the most complete and well preserved of its kind - provides an intriguing glimpse of the daily life of a prehistoric hunter-gatherer.
The contents, as described by Phillip Edwards, a senior lecturer in the Archaeology Program at Melbourne's La Trobe University, show the owner of the bag was well equipped for obtaining meat and edible plants in the wild. "There was a sickle for harvesting wild wheat or barley, a cluster of flint spearheads, a flint core for making more spearheads, some smooth stones (maybe slingshots), a large stone (maybe for striking flint pieces off the flint core), a cluster of gazelle toe bones which were used to make beads, and part of a second bone tool," he said. Edwards outlines the finds, attributed to the Natufian culture from a site called Wadi Hammeh 27 in Jordan, in the latest issue of Antiquity.
He believes the tools were enclosed in a hide or wickerwork bag with a strap that would have been worn over the shoulder. Such bags rarely had compartments, so the owner probably protected valuable items by wrapping them in rolls of bark or leather before placing them at the bottom of the bag. The sickle, constructed out of two carefully grooved horn pieces, was fitted with color-matched tan and grey bladelets. It would have been a marvel of form and function for its day and is the only tool of its kind ever linked to the Natufian people. The rest of the items were designed to immobilize and then kill game such as aurochs, red deer, hares, storks, partridges, owls, tortoises and the major source of meat - gazelles. "We don't know if Natufian hunters had the bow and arrow, or just spears," Edwards explained.
But the bag's owner wasn't necessarily a man; women are thought to have been in charge of plant gathering. The tools, therefore, either belonged to a woman hunter-gatherer, or work activities were more gender-blind than thought during prehistoric times, Edwards theorized.
Francois Valla, director of the French Research Center in Jerusalem and a noted archaeologist, said that similar ancient clusters of tools have been excavated, but this latest one is "the most spectacular of them all." "The clustering of these items is due to a decision made by some Natufian individual," Valla said. "As such, it is a rare testimony of the behavior of a person 14,000 years ago." The toolkit's showpiece item, its double-bladed sickle, is now on display in the museum of the Faculty of Archaeology & Anthropology at Jordan's Yarmouk University.
Source: Discovery Channel (13 December 2007)