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Bone knife from Morocco oldest attributed to Aterians. Source: © Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London (2018), S. Bello and  Mohammed Kamal (Fotokam, Morocco)

Stone Age or Bone Age? Knife from Morocco is Oldest Specialized Tool of the Culture

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90,000 years ago, a large mammal met its death and people of the Aterian culture skillfully fashioned this knife from one of its ribs. That bone knife has now found to be the oldest of its type to come from North Africa. This find indicates the appearance of a ‘unique technological complex’ in North Africa around 90,000 years ago.

A single bone artifact found in a Moroccan cave is the oldest well-dated specialized bone tool associated with the Aterian culture of the Middle Stone Age, according to a study released October 3, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Abdeljalil Bouzouggar of the Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du Patrimoine in Morocco and colleagues. The make and manufacture of the tool are distinct from similarly-aged sub-Saharan artifacts, suggesting a unique technological industry in North Africa.

The tool was recovered in 2012 from Dar-es Soltan 1 cave, located about 260km (162 miles) inland from the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Upon close examination, Bouzouggar and colleagues were able to identify the origins of the bone as a large mammal rib with evidence of having been shaped and sharpened into a 122mm-long knife through a complex series of modifications. The layer containing the bone knife has been dated to approximately 90,000 years ago, approximately 55,000 years after the first appearance of the Aterian culture.

A (Dar es-Soltan 1 Cave); B&C (El Mnasra Cave) (Image: Silvia Bello and Mohammed Kamal (Fotokam, Morocco)

A (Dar es-Soltan 1 Cave); B&C (El Mnasra Cave) (Image: Silvia Bello and Mohammed Kamal (Fotokam, Morocco)

This tool and the technology used to create it are distinct from bone tools of similar age in southern Africa but similar to two tools known from the El Mnasra cave site in Morocco which is also of similar age, suggesting a unique North African Aterian bone technology. Specialized bone tools are considered a sign of cognitive complexity but have been poorly-understood with the Aterian technological complex , so this finding represents a new insight into the development of modern human cognition. The authors also suggest that this new technology may have come about in response to changing resources around 90,000 years ago but note that more study will be required to support this.

Bone tool from Dar es-Soltan 1. A) Drawing of the tool with sequence of post-depositional breaks indicated [1–3]; (B) Photograph of the cortical side, sharp edge, trabecular side, smooth edge, tip and base of the tool. (C) SEM images detailing (a) scrape marks and polish along the smooth edge on the cortical side of the tool and (b) deep scrape marks (re-sharpening) along the sharp edge on the cortical side; (c) flaking near the tip of the tool, and (d) detail of the flat break surface near the base of the tool; (e) wear pattern near the sharp edge on the trabecular side of the tool, and (f) deep scrape-marks near the smooth edge on the trabecular side; (g) flaking close to the tip, and (h) polishing of the smooth edge of the tool. (Image: © 2018 Bouzouggar et al.)

Bone tool from Dar es-Soltan 1. A) Drawing of the tool with sequence of post-depositional breaks indicated [ 13]; (B) Photograph of the cortical side, sharp edge, trabecular side, smooth edge, tip and base of the tool. (C) SEM images detailing (a) scrape marks and polish along the smooth edge on the cortical side of the tool and (b) deep scrape marks (re-sharpening) along the sharp edge on the cortical side; (c) flaking near the tip of the tool, and (d) detail of the flat break surface near the base of the tool; (e) wear pattern near the sharp edge on the trabecular side of the tool, and (f) deep scrape-marks near the smooth edge on the trabecular side; (g) flaking close to the tip, and (h) polishing of the smooth edge of the tool. (Image: © 2018 Bouzouggar et al. )

Silvia Bello, a co-author, adds:

"Aterians were capable of a complex and controlled sequence of actions involved in the manufacture of specialized bone knives. Such distinctive bone technology implies the emergence of an independent modern techno-complex unique to the north Africa around 100,000 years ago."

Top image: Bone knife from Morocco oldest attributed to Aterians. Source: © Trustees of the Natural History Museum , London (2018), S. Bello and  Mohammed Kamal (Fotokam, Morocco)

 The article ‘ Bone knife from Morocco is oldest specialized tool associated with Aterian culture’ was originally published on Science Daily.

Source: PLOS. "Bone knife from Morocco is oldest specialized tool associated with Aterian culture: Unique technological complex in North Africa around 90,000 years ago." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181003142901.htm

References

Abdeljalil Bouzouggar, Louise T. Humphrey, Nick Barton, Simon A. Parfitt, Laine Clark Balzan, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Mohammed Abdeljalil El Hajraoui, Roland Nespoulet, Silvia M. Bello. 90,000 year-old specialised bone technology in the Aterian Middle Stone Age of North Africa . PLOS ONE , 2018; 13 (10): e0202021 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0202021

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