Follow by Email

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Evidence of Modern Smarts in Stone Age Superglue Options

stoneageglue


Researchers who reverse-engineered an ancient superglue have found
that Stone Age people were smarter than we thought.


Making the glue, originally used on 70,000-year-old composite tools,
clearly required high-level cognitive powers. Anthropologists usually
use symbolic art as the benchmark for modern cognition, but making the
glue was an equally profound accomplishment.


“These artisans were exceedingly skilled; they understood the
properties of their adhesive ingredients, and they were able to
manipulate them knowingly,” wrote University of Witwatersrand
archaeologists in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences.


The archaeologists took design cues from stone tools found during a
decade of excavation at South Africa’s Sibudu Cave site. The stones
were still covered with traces of an iron-rich red pigment and acacia
gum, a natural adhesive found in the bark of acacia trees.


Acacia gum was almost certainly used to attach the stones to wooden
shafts, but researchers have debated the pigment’s role. Some
suggested that it was decoration. The Witersrand team suspected a more
functional use.


Indeed, when they used Stone Age toolmaking techniques to attach
stones to wooden shafts with nothing but acacia gum, the tools soon
fell apart. When they added the pigment, the tools stuck together. But
making the glue required much more than simple mixing. It demanded
careful and sustained attention.


Keeping the fire at the right temperature required certain types of
wood, with a certain degree of moisture content. If glues were mixed
too close to the fire, they contained air bubbles. If too dry, they
weren’t cohesive; if too wet, they were weak. The Sibudu Cave’s Stone
Age inhabitants, wrote the researchers, were “competent chemists,
alchemists and pyrotechnologists.”


The Sibudu tools were about as old as the first possible evidence of
symbolic art, also found in South Africa. But some archaeologists say
that art, consisting of cross-hatched engravings on stone, may
represent absent-minded doodles rather than a cognitive leap. The
glues are a more convincing indication of modern intelligence.


“The glue maker needs to pay careful attention to the condition of
ingredients before and during the procedure and must be able to switch
attention between aspects of the methodology,” wrote the Witwatersrand
team. “To hold many courses of action in the mind involves
multitasking. This is one trait of modern human minds, notwithstanding
that even today, some people find multilevel operations difficult.”

Source

Journal of Human Evolution
Volume 53, Issue 4, October 2007, Pages 406-419


Font Size: Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size
Abstract
Abstract - selected
Article
Figures/Tables
Figures/Tables - selected
References
References - selected
Purchase PDF (1049 K)


Article Toolbox
E-mail Article


Add to my Quick Links
Bookmark and share in 2collab (opens in new window)
Request permission to reuse this article
Cited By in Scopus (4)


Advertisement


Related Articles in ScienceDirect
Putting ochre to the test: replication studies of adhes...
Journal of Human Evolution
Close
You are not entitled to access the full text of this document Putting
ochre to the test: replication studies of adhesives that may have been
used for hafting tools in the Middle Stone Age
Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 49, Issue 5, November 2005, Pages
587-601
Lyn Wadley


Abstract
Substantial frequencies of Middle Stone Age (MSA) lithics from Rose
Cottage and Sibudu Caves in South Africa have red ochre on their
proximal and medial portions. Residue studies suggest that the tools
were hafted and that the ochre may be part of the adhesive used for
hafting the tools. Replication studies show that ochre is indeed a
useful loading agent for adhesive; however, there are other potential
loading agents. It is also possible to use unloaded plant resin, but
this agent is brittle and difficult to work with. It appears that
people living in the MSA had wide knowledge of ingredients suitable
for hafting tools, and that they chose different adhesive recipes
because of the required properties of the adhesive. Brittle, unloaded
adhesive allows a projectile head to disengage its haft and implant
itself in an animal; robust adhesive keeps a spearhead safely in its
shaft.


Purchase PDF (400 K)
Evidence of hunting and hafting during the Middle Stone...
Journal of Human Evolution
Close
You are not entitled to access the full text of this document Evidence
of hunting and hafting during the Middle Stone Age at Sibidu Cave,
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: a multianalytical approach
Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 48, Issue 3, March 2005, Pages
279-300
Marlize Lombard


Abstract
Points and point fragments from Middle Stone Age layers (dated to
between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago) from Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal,
South Africa, were examined to establish whether they were used as
hafted spearheads for hunting. A multi-analytical approach was
followed, using macrofracture analysis, use-wear analysis, and residue
analysis. In addition to the analytical processes, an experimental
project tested the results of the macrofracture analysis on local raw
materials. The study shows that points from Sibudu Cave were indeed
hafted and used as hunting tools. It was further established that
plant twine was probably the preferred binding material to attach the
points to wooden hafts. Resin may have been used as an adhesive in
combination with the binding material. A detailed examination of the
ochre distribution on the points confirmed that ochre was also part of
the hafting arrangement. The need to use a dependable methodology for
the recognition of hunting and hafting traces on stone points from the
southern African Middle Stone Age context is briefly discussed.


Purchase PDF (832 K)
Finding resolution for the Howiesons Poort through the ...
Journal of Archaeological Science
Close
You are not entitled to access the full text of this document Finding
resolution for the Howiesons Poort through the microscope: micro-
residue analysis of segments from Sibudu Cave, South Africa
Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 35, Issue 1, January 2008,
Pages 26-41
Marlize Lombard


Abstract
In this paper I present the results of a micro-residue analysis of
stone segments, the type fossils of the Howiesons Poort technocomplex
in South Africa, with an age of more than 60 ka at Sibudu Cave,
KwaZulu-Natal. Fifty-three segments were systematically analysed and
1826 organic micro-residue occurrences were documented on the sample.
The distribution patterns of micro-residues and other use-traces are
interpreted in terms of hafting and function. It is shown that most of
the tools were indeed hafted and most were probably used as inserts
for hunting weapons. There is evidence for differences and changes
over time in haft materials and hafting configurations of the
segments. The study demonstrates how functional studies could improve
our understanding of change and variability in human behaviour during
the Middle Stone Age, a period that used to be portrayed as static or
slow changing.


Purchase PDF (1888 K)
Possible shell beads from the Middle Stone Age layers o...
Journal of Archaeological Science
Close
You are not entitled to access the full text of this document Possible
shell beads from the Middle Stone Age layers of Sibudu Cave, South
Africa
Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 35, Issue 10, October 2008,
Pages 2675-2685
Francesco d'Errico, Marian Vanhaeren, Lyn Wadley


Abstract
Recent excavations at Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa,
uncovered an Iron Age horizon below which is a complex 3 m thick
Middle Stone Age sequence with post-Howiesons Poort, Howiesons Poort,
Still Bay and pre-Still Bay layers. Available OSL ages indicate that
the Howiesons Poort occupation is older than 60 ky and the Still Bay
older than 70 ky. Here we present the archaeological context and the
taphonomic analysis of six Afrolittorina africana, three of which bear
perforations, from the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort layers of this
site. The single specimen from the latter cultural horizon comes from
the lowermost layer attributed to this technocomplex. This and the
depositional context of this layer suggest that this shell derives, as
do the other five, from the Still Bay occupation layers. Taphonomic
analysis of the archaeological specimens based on present day
Afrolittorina africana biocoenoses, microscopic examination,
morphometry, experimental perforation of modern shells, and a review
of the natural agents that may accumulate marine shells at inland
sites, indicate probable human involvement in the collection,
transport, modification, and abandonment of Afrolittorina africana in
Sibudu. If confirmed by future discoveries these shells would
corroborate the use of personal ornaments, already attested at Blombos
Cave, Western Cape Province, by Still Bay populations. The apparent
absence of ornaments at Howiesons Poort sites raises the question of
the mechanisms that have led to cultural modernity since it seems to
contradict the scenario according to which cultural innovations
recorded at Middle Stone Age sites reflect a process of continuous
accretion and elaboration interpreted as the behavioural corollary of
the emergence of anatomically modern humans.


Purchase PDF (3876 K)
Middle Stone Age bone tools from the Howiesons Poort la...
Journal of Archaeological Science
Close
You are not entitled to access the full text of this document Middle
Stone Age bone tools from the Howiesons Poort layers, Sibudu Cave,
South Africa
Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 35, Issue 6, June 2008,
Pages 1566-1580
Lucinda Backwell, Francesco d'Errico, Lyn Wadley


Abstract
Recently discovered bone implements from Middle Stone Age (MSA)
deposits at Sibudu Cave, South Africa, confirm the existence of a bone
tool industry for the Howiesons Poort (HP) technocomplex. Previously,
an isolated bone point from Klasies River provided inconclusive
evidence. This paper describes three bone tools: two points and the
end of a polished spatula-shaped piece, from unequivocal HP layers at
Sibudu Cave (with ages greater than not, vert, similar61 ka).
Comparative microscopic and morphometric analysis of the Sibudu
specimens together with bone tools from southern African Middle and
Later Stone Age (LSA) deposits, an Iron Age occupation, nineteenth
century Bushman hunter-gatherer toolkits, and bone tools used
experimentally in a variety of tasks, reveals that the Sibudu polished
piece has use-wear reminiscent of that on bones experimentally used to
work animal hides. A slender point is consistent with a pin or needle-
like implement, while a larger point, reminiscent of the single
specimen from Peers Cave, parallels large un-poisoned bone arrow
points from LSA, Iron Age and historical Bushman sites. Additional
support for the Sibudu point having served as an arrow tip comes from
backed lithics in the HP compatible with this use, and the recovery of
older, larger bone and lithic points from Blombos Cave, interpreted as
spear heads. If the bone point from the HP layers at Sibudu Cave is
substantiated by future discoveries, this will push back the origin of
bow and bone arrow technology by at least 20,000 years, and
corroborate arguments in favour of the hypothesis that crucial
technological innovations took place during the MSA in Africa.


Purchase PDF (3739 K)
View More Related Articles


View Record in Scopus
doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.05.004
How to Cite or Link Using DOI (Opens New Window)


Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.


The gripping nature of ochre: The association of ochre with Howiesons
Poort adhesives and Later Stone Age mastics from South Africa
Purchase the full-text article


References and further reading may be available for this article. To
view references and further reading you must purchase this article.


Marlize Lombarda, b, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail
The Corresponding Author


aDepartment of Human Sciences, Natal Museum, Private Bag 9070,
Pietermaritzburg 3200, South Africa


bSchool of Anthropology, Gender and Historical Studies, University of
KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South Africa


Received 2 June 2006;
accepted 30 May 2007.
Available online 23 July 2007.


Abstract


This contribution provides direct evidence for the use of ochre in
adhesive recipes during the Howiesons Poort of South Africa. Stone
segments from two KwaZulu-Natal sites were microscopically analyzed to
document ochre and resin microresidue occurrences. These microresidues
show a clear distribution pattern on the tool portions that are
associated with hafting. Results from a separate quartz and crystal-
quartz sample may indicate that different adhesive recipes were
applied to different raw materials. A possible functional application
for ochre in association with Later Stone Age mastics is also
explored. The evidence and suggestions presented here expand our
understanding of the versatility, use, and value of pigmentatious
materials in prehistory; it is not viewed as an alternative or
replacement hypothesis for its possible symbolic role during the late
Pleistocene.


Introduction


A brief introduction to the Howiesons Poort of South Africa
Samples and sites
Methods


Results


Sample A from Sibudu Cave
Sample B from Sibudu Cave
Sample C from Umhlatuzana Rock Shelter
Sample D from Umhlatuzana Rock Shelter
Raw materials and adhesive recipes


Discussion


Ochre as a component in adhesives
Investigating symbolic explanations
Ochre associated with Later Stone Age mastic


Conclusion
Acknowledgements
References
Source
Share/Bookmark

No comments: