The 357,000-year-old abrader found in the Lower Paleolithic layers of Tabun Cave in Israel is presently the earliest documented artifact of its kind.
The 357,000-year-old abrading tool from Tabun Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel, viewed from various angles. Image credit: Shimelmitz et al., doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2020.102909.
The abrading tool from Tabun Cave is an ovate dolomite cobble measuring 9.4 x 8.8 x 6 cm (3.7 x 3.5 x 2.4 inches) and weighing almost 0.5 kg.
It consists of three fragments that were found in close proximity to each other. It bears traces of mechanical alteration, suggestive of abrasion and consistent with patterns recorded for grinding tools.
“The Acheulo-Yabrudian complex is attributed to the late Lower Paleolithic and dating from 415,000/400,000 to 250,000/220,000 years ago,” said Dr. Ron Shimelmitz from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa and colleagues.
“Among its features is noteworthy for the systematic use of fire and hearth-centered activities, increased use of base camps, and the formation of complex socioeconomic practices.”
“Notably, the Acheulo-Yabrudian complex presents unprecedented lithic variability, indicating a new level of technical sophistication.”
“Evidence for greater lithic complexity includes the frequent use of predetermined blade and flake technologies, the formation of tools for shaping tools, and the manipulation of a remarkably broad range of substances: stone, bone, hide, wood, and even ash.”
To determine whether the traces on the dolomite cobble can be attributed to purposeful human action, the researchers conducted a detailed use-wear analysis.
“The results of the use-wear study on the investigated cobble item accompanied by experimental research provide evidence of macroscopic and microscopic wear traces indicative of abrasion,” they said.
“This is manifested in clearly defined use-wear patterns that altered the naturally weathered surface of the artifact.”
“The wide distribution of these traces over the item’s surface together with the few striations suggests a back-and-forth abrading motion.”
“The Tabun Cave cobble abrader joins the modest existing corpus of early ground stone tools and reinforces the understanding that the roots of this technology are both deep and ambiguous,” they added.
“More specifically, on account of its early date, the abrader stretches the temporal field in question even deeper into the past, emphasizing that the emergence and transformation of ground stone tool technologies is longer, more complicated and intricate than commonly thought, a topic in need for much further deliberation.”
The findings were published in the January 2021 issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.
Ron Shimelmitz et al. 2021. A Middle Pleistocene abrading tool from Tabun Cave, Israel: A search for the roots of abrading technology in human evolution. Journal of Human Evolution 150: 102909; doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2020.102909