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Lower Palaeolithic / Early Stone Age Finds & Theories

Stone Age Cave Dwelling Found Exactly As It Was Left 17,000 Years Ago

Archaeologists in northern Spain have uncovered what they describe as one of the “best conserved Paleolithic dwellings in the world”. Dated to 16,800 years ago, the living space in the La Garma cave in Cantabria appears almost as it did when its ancient inhabitants abandoned the site, with tools and other artifacts strewn across the floor.


Originally discovered in 1995, La Garma was inhabited by humans throughout the Upper Paleolithic and contains one of the most complete collections of rock art in Europe, spanning the Old Stone Age all the way up to the site’s desertion in the Magdalenian period. It was at this time – around 17,000 years ago – that a rockfall blocked the entrance to the cave, sealing its contents like a prehistoric time capsule.

The oval-shaped space measures around 5 meters squared (54 square feet) and is delineated by a series of stone blocks and stalagmites, “which fixed to the ground a structure made of sticks and hides supported by a nearby ledge in the cave wall.” In the center of the living space is a hearth, surrounded by a multitude of items that would have been used in everyday life by the cave’s ancient inhabitants.

These include tools used to produce stone, antler and bone artifacts, as well as those utilized during the butchering of animals and the working of hides. Among the 4,614 items retrieved so far, researchers also found spears, needles, and a “proto harpoon”.

In addition to these utilitarian objects, the cave was found to contain a number of artistic pieces, including an aurochs bone engraved with the image of both an aurochs and a human face. According to the researchers, this is the only artifact of its kind ever discovered from Palaeolithic Europe.


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New findings at Shiyu.

45,000-Year-Old Tools And Bones Reveal Earliest Evidence of Homo Sapiens in Eastern Asia​


Some of the 45,000 year-old stone tools found at the Shiyu site in China. (Yang et al., Nat. Ecol. Evol., 2024)

Fragments of ancient rock and bone in Eastern Asia are changing our understanding of the history of human migration. They're artifacts found in the Shiyu site of northeastern China, and new analysis has revealed that they were created by Homo sapiens some 45,000 years ago.

It's the earliest evidence of modern humans in Eastern Asia, suggesting that Homo sapiens were established at Shiyu by then, and provoking a new interpretation of the cultural artifacts previously found at the site.

"The site reflects a process of cultural creolization – the contact between societies and relocated peoples – blending inherited traits with novel innovations, thus complicating the traditional understanding of Homo sapiens' global expansion," explains archaeologist Francesco D'Errico of the University of Bordeaux.


Some of the stone tools from Shiyu, knapped using the Levallois method. (Yang et al., Nat. Ecol. Evol., 2024)

Shiyu has been known for decades as a place of archaeological significance. It was inhabited for a long time – the sedimentary sequence is 30 meters (98 feet) deep, and the layers therein were deposited over tens of thousands of years. Buried in the sediment, archaeologists have found a rich assortment of tools and artifacts made and used by the people who lived there.

Establishing who those people were, and how long they lived there, has been an ongoing project. The first excavations, in 1963, yielded thousands of objects: 15,000 stone artifacts, thousands of pieces of bone and teeth… and one single hominid fossil, a piece of skull bone identified as belonging to Homo sapiens.

However, most of the collection was subsequently lost, including the skull fragment.

Undeterred, scientists undertook another excavation in 2013. Led by paleoanthropologist Shi-Xia Yang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an international multidisciplinary team has now worked to characterize the site in detail.

Some of the tools recovered at the site, including scrapers, blades, a borer, and an awl. (Yang et al., Nat. Ecol. Evol., 2024)

They selected a large number of the available artifacts, and analyzed them closely. They studied animal bones found at the site. And they performed new dating analysis, using radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques to accurately date samples taken from different sections of the sediment sequence.

The dating revealed that the very oldest layer of the sequence was deposited around 45,000 years ago. And the analysis of the artifacts revealed a range of technological skills, such as the Levallois technique for knapping stone, developed in Europe around 250,000 years ago.

Why Paleolithic prey was hunted close to Paleolithic stone quarries.

Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University have uncovered the mystery surrounding extensive Paleolithic stone quarrying and tool-making sites: Why did Homo erectus repeatedly revisit the very same locations for hundreds of thousands of years? The answer lies in the migration routes of elephants, which they hunted and dismembered using flint tools crafted at these quarrying sites.

The research, published in the journal Archaeologies, was led by Dr. Meir Finkel and Prof. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures

Prof. Ran Barkai explains, "Ancient humans required three things: water, food, and stone. While water and food are necessities for all creatures, humans relied on stone tools to hunt and butcher animals, as they lacked the sharp claws or fangs of other predators. The question is, why do we find rock outcrops that were used for the production of flint tools surrounded by thousands of stone tools, and next to them, rock outcrops containing flint that was not used for the production of tools?"

"A study of indigenous groups that lived until recently, with some still alive today, shows that hunter-gatherers attribute great importance to the source of the stone—the quarry itself—imbuing it with potency and sanctity, and hence also spiritual worship."

"People have been making pilgrimages to such sites for generations upon generations, leaving offerings at the rock outcrop while adjacent outcrops, equally suitable for stone tool production, remain untouched. We sought to understand why; what is special about these sites?"

For nearly 20 years, Prof. Barkai and his colleagues have been researching flint quarrying and tool-making sites in the Upper Galilee. These sites are characterized by large nodules of flint convenient for crafting and are located within walking distance of the major Paleolithic sites of the Hula Valley—Gesher Benot Ya'akov and Ma'ayan Baruch.

These sites boast thousands of quarrying and extraction localities where, until half a million years ago, in the Lower Paleolithic period, prehistoric humans fashioned tools and left offerings despite the presence of flint in other geological formations in various places. ...