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16 August 2012
Neolithic man: the first lumberjack?

Dr Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilisations has demonstrated a direct connection between the development of an agricultural society and the development of woodworking tools.
     During the Neolithic Age (approximately 10000-6000 BCE), man evolved from hunter-gatherer to farmer and agriculturalist, living in larger, permanent settlements with a variety of domesticated animals and plants, bringing significant changes to the economy, architecture, environment, and more.
     According to Barkai, intensive woodworking and tree-felling only appeared with the transition to agriculture and permanent villages. Prior to the Neolithic, there is no evidence of tools powerful enough to fell trees.
     The use of woodworking tools over the course of the Neolithic period has not been studied in detail until now. Through their work at the site of Motza, in the Judean Hills, Dr Barkai and fellow researchers Professor Rick Yerkes of Ohio State University (USA) and Dr Hamudi Khalaily of the Israel Antiquity Authority, have unearthed evidence that the increasing sophistication of carpentry tools corresponds with increased agriculture and permanent settlements.
     The early part of the Neolithic age is divided into two distinct eras - Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). Agriculture and domesticated plants and animals appear only in PPNB.
     Within PPNA, humans remained gatherers but lived in more permanent settlements for the first time, says Barkai. Axes associated with this period are small and delicate, not suited for massive tasks. In PPNB, much larger and heavier axes evolved, formed by polishing. Barkai also identifies a trial-and-error phase during which humans tried to create an axe strong enough for larger tasks.
     Whether the transition to agriculture led to the development of carpentry tools, or vice versa, the parallel changes led to a revolution in lifestyle. The round and oval structures of earlier domiciles were replaced by rectangular structures with wooden beams. In addition, people began to produce floors of limestone-based plaster, manufactured by heating limestone.

Edited from American Friends Tel Aviv University, EurekAlert! (9 August 2012)

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