New data on stone percussive activities carried out by hominids at Orce 1.4 to 1.3 million years ago

Percussive technology dates back to the earliest stages of humanization and is therefore a key aspect for understanding how first cultures evolved

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Percussive activities and their related tool manufacture systems are documented early on in the archeological record. The characterization of large-sized percussion tools in Oldowan stone tool assemblages and their role in ancient toolkits is often difficult to ascertain. This situation may begin to change thanks to a new methodology developed by researchers at the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and the Archaeological Museum of Granada.

This new research impetus is founded on the analysis of limestone tools from the Oldowan sites of Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 (1.4 and 1.3 million years old, Orce, Granada). The resulting methodological advances prepared by Deborah Barsky, Robert Sala, Josep Maria Vergès, Leticia Menéndez (IPHES-URV) and Isidro Toro (Archaeological Museum of Granada) have recently been presented at the International Conference: Percussive Technology and Human Evolution, held at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London and organized by Ignacio de la Torre (researcher and Reader in Archaeology of UCL).

Tool limestone found in Orce
Tool limestone found in Orce

“One of the main results evidenced by our study is that the hominins from Orce systematically used abrupt edges and the intersections of flat surfaces to carry out a wide range of percussive activities”, says Deborah Barsky, researcher and responsible for research in African Prehistory at IPHES. “This work has allowed us to identify, describe and illustrate a series of percussion marks, which we believe, will provide a useful foundation for future studies on macro tools from ancient lithic assemblages. Our methodology, especially developed for studying these little-known tools, has also allowed us to identify some loosely configured tool types in the Orce assemblages”.

The aim of the conference was to discuss the emergence and evolution of percussive technology. “This exciting topic was discussed enthusiastically by a group of international specialists and scholars in the fields of Human Evolution, Archaeology, Evolutionary Psychology and Primatology”, says Deborah Barsky. The impact achieved underlines a growing interest in recent years for the study of percussive activities and traces they left on hammerstones, cores and large tool forms in early stone toolkits from both Africa and Eurasia.

The conference included four sessions: percussive technologies in modern humans and other primates, percussive stone tools and the archaeological record, percussive activities in wild primates and the role of percussive tasks in human evolution.

Percussive technology dates back to the earliest stages of humanization and is therefore a key aspect for understanding how first cultures evolved. “In the framework of Lower Pleistocene Western Europe, Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 have yielded an exceptionally rich collection of lithic industries including light-duty flint flakes and cores and heavy-duty limestone tools”. This conference provided an ideal opportunity to present recent advancements in the ongoing study of the limestone percussion tools from these two sites. New quantitative and qualitative data obtained from the macro industries from Barranco León and Fuente Nueva 3 was presented, as well details concerning the new methodology developed to highlight their morphometric features”, adds the same archaeologist.

The methodology includes an experimental program, still in progress, designed to reproduce the wide range of percussion marks observed in the collection of limestone industries at the Orce sites. It also has opened new perspectives for understanding how the raw materials were introduced into the sites and the role of expediency in its exploitation“.

The conference proceedings are set to be published in an International Peer Reviewed Journal in the upcoming year.

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