Manage episode 376875121 series 3444207
Around 1.4 million years ago, our early human relatives, including Homo erectus, displayed a remarkable propensity for creating perfect stone spheres. These intriguing "spheroids" were meticulously crafted in the Middle East, representing a profound breakthrough in our understanding of early hominin cognitive abilities.
A recent study published Sept. 6 in the journal Royal Society Open Science1, led by archaeologist Antoine Muller from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explores this ancient craftsmanship, shedding light on the intention and dexterity of these prehistoric artisans. Their findings reveal the earliest known evidence of humans deliberately imposing symmetry on objects, a skill that hints at our ancestors' remarkable cognitive capacities.
The stone spheroids discovered by archaeologists are truly enigmatic. Hundreds of these meticulously shaped objects, often made from limestone or sandstone, have been found at archaeological sites spanning across Africa, Asia, and Europe. Ranging in size from as small as a walnut to the dimensions of an orange, these spheroids have intrigued researchers for years. Some studies2 suggest they served as essential tools, possibly as "hammerstones" for chipping flakes off other stones or as cores from which flakes were removed.
These spheroids are not a recent creation but instead span an extensive period in human history. Some date back up to 2 million years, covering the entire era of stone tool-making. Remarkably, they've been found at sites ranging from Neolithic to more recent locations, emphasizing their enduring presence in human culture.
Muller's research team meticulously examined 150 limestone spheroids discovered at the 'Ubeidiya archaeological site in northern Israel. These particular spheroids are approximately 1.4 million years old, coinciding with the dominance of Homo erectus. Mathematical analyses were employed to ascertain whether the spheroids' spherical shape was deliberate or accidental. Their findings suggest a deliberate crafting process that involved stages of refinement. Spheroids that were more "finished" exhibited a greater degree of symmetry, implying that symmetry was a desired attribute.
This discovery challenges prior assumptions about the cognitive abilities of early hominins. While previous research pointed to the Acheulean bifaces as the earliest evidence of hominins imposing geometric shapes and symmetry on stone tools, it now appears that the spheroids, which are older, served a similar purpose. These objects, symmetric in all directions, may have fulfilled a specific need that went beyond mere utility.
The study opens a window into the cognitive world of early hominins, suggesting they possessed a level of cognitive sophistication previously underestimated. Crafting a stone into a sphere required not only physical dexterity but also the ability to conceptualize and manifest abstract ideas. The researchers posit that Homo erectus and even earlier ancestors like Homo habilis may have been more cognitively advanced than previously assumed.
While the purpose of these spheroids remains shrouded in mystery, some theories suggest they may have had practical applications. One such theory suggests they were used as hammerstones to knock flakes off stone cores. The process of shaping these objects into spheres could have emerged organically from this repetitive action.
The study of ancient stone spheroids challenges our understanding of early human cognition and capabilities. These perfectly crafted objects hint at our ancestors' capacity to think abstractly, plan, and manipulate the physical world around them. While the true purpose of these spheroids remains a subject of ongoing investigation, they stand as a testament to the remarkable abilities of early hominins to shape both their tools and their evolving world.
Muller, A., Barsky, D., Sala-Ramos, R., Sharon, G., Titton, S., Vergès, J.-M., & Grosman, L. (2023). The limestone spheroids of ‘Ubeidiya: intentional imposition of symmetric geometry by early hominins? Royal Society Open Science, 10(9). https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.230671
Sahnouni, M., Schick, K., & Toth, N. (1997). An experimental investigation into the nature of faceted limestone “spheroids” in the early Palaeolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science, 24(8), 701–713. https://doi.org/10.1006/jasc.1996.0152