New Light Shines On Ancient African Technology In South Africa

New Light Shines On Ancient African Technology In South Africa

The Swartkrans archaeological site 15 miles northwest of Johannesburg has been excavated for decades, but a new find is helping reveal how our ancestors thought and the way they used tools soon after evolving into Homo sapiens, Reuters reports in BusinessInsider.

Scraping tools fashioned from a type of quartz that doesn’t occur naturally in the area have been found recently at the Kromdraai site. The tools were used 100,000 years ago to prepare animal hides.

“We have found a lot of quartz and this is important because it is not natural to this area … It must have been brought here,” American graduate student Sarah Edlund told Reutersas she worked on a two-meter-by-two-meter grid marked out just a month ago.

The site has given up hundreds of hominid fossils in the last 30 years, shining a light on human evolutionary past going back almost 2 million years.

Much of the quartz found at the site is in the form of flakes that may have come off while a tool was being fashioned. The scrapers themselves are fairly basic: a piece of quartz worked so that the edge can be used to scrape a hide from an animal, according to Reuters.

What is remarkable is the sheer number dug up, and what that suggests about early human social development 100,000 years ago.

“We think is this is perhaps a specialization site, where they were working hide,” said Travis Pickering, Travis Pickering, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin who directs the Swartkrans research project. “And that is indicative of a very cognitively advanced sort of society.”

Thirty years ago at the Sterkfontein caves across the valley, paleoanthropologist Bob Brain found what is thought to be the first known use of fire by humans more than 1 million years ago, Reuters reports.

Swartkrans Cave is one of the world’s most important paleoanthropological sites, Pickering said in a research report.

Here’s what Pickering wrote in 2013 about the early humans who inhabited the cave at Swartkrans, from Swartkrans.org.

The Swartkrans Cave story, that gradually developed as my excavation progressed, was that both our early human ancestors (Homo ergaster) and our relatives…(Paranthropus robustus) were living in an open savanna environment there between 2 and 1 million years ago and that they regularly sought shelter near the cave’s entrance, probably on cold winter nights.

Here they were preyed upon by leopards and sabre-toothed cats, that consumed them in the deeper parts of the cave. (Paranthropus robustus) disappeared from the scene about a million years ago, while our own ancestors experienced a steady enlargement of their brain-size, providing them with improved intelligence and technology, such as the management of of fire, the earliest evidence for which has come from this remarkable Swartkrans Cave.