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30 March 2015
Prehistoric stone tools bear 500,000-year-old animal residue

Professor Ran Barkai and two graduate students from the Tel Aviv University Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures recently confirmed that stone tools found among elephant remains at a Lower Palaeolithic site in Israel held traces of animal remains - the first scientifically verified direct evidence for the precise use of Palaeolithic stone tools to process animal carcasses and hides.
     "Fracturing rocks in order to butcher and cut animal meat represents a key biological and cultural milestone," Professor Barkai says. "At the Revadim quarry, a wonderfully preserved site a half-million years old, we found butchered animal remains, including an elephant rib bone which had been neatly cut by a stone tool, alongside flint hand-axes and scrapers still retaining animal fat. It became clear from further analyses that butchering and carcass processing indeed took place at this site. Archaeologists have until now only been able to suggest scenarios about the use and function of such tools."
     Hand-axes and scrapers found at prehistoric sites all around the world were distinct implements, used for specific purposes. By comparing replicas with their prehistoric counterparts, the researchers determined that the hand-axe was prehistoric man's sturdy "Swiss army knife," capable of cutting and breaking down bone, tough sinew, and hide. The slimmer, more delicate scraper was used for skinning carcasses and preparing hides.
     According to Professor Barkai, "The knowledge of how to make these tools was precious, and must have been passed along from generation to generation, because these tools were reproduced the same way across great territorial expanses and over hundreds of thousands of years.

Edited from EurekAlert! (19 March 2015)

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