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Neolithic People Were Also Strip Miners

Quarries are changing how archaeologists think about the Stone Age

Researchers once thought these holes were from food prep. They were wrong. ( Leore Grosma/Naama Goren-Inbar )
smithsonian.com

Spears and pelts aren’t exactly the stuff of modern living, but they’re part and parcel of the popular concept of a prehistoric human. That image is fading, though, as archaeologists learn more about how people lived thousands of years ago. As Ruth Schuster reports for Haaretz, new information indicates that prehistoric people didn’t just hunt and gather—they were strip miners, too.

That’s the newest revelation from Kaizer Hill, a Neolithic quarry in Israel that shows intriguing evidence of an approximately 11,000-year-old mining operation. In a newly released study, a group of Israeli archaeologists write that the bedrock hill, which contains marks scholars already knew were manmade, was actually being stripped away by Neolithic people in search of flint for arrowheads and tools. Cup marks, drill marks and other evidence showed that the mining on site was extensive—an intriguing glimpse into an operation that seems to have included drills and axes.

In the past, the team writes, researchers have interpreted axes and tools for working wood. But the team thinks that in this case, they were used in a process that involved drilling down into the depth of the mineral deposit, opening a quarry where flint was found, then hacking away at the cache.

The humans who mined away the bedrock in search of flint “changed the landscape forever,” write the researchers. But the discovery might change the way researchers look at Neolithic people, too. After all, the cup marks at the site were originally interpreted as relating to food preparation. Now that another, much more industrial, use is suggested, archaeologists could revise their interpretation of how Neolithic people used other sites.

Researchers do know that Neolithic people who lived around 4,000 years ago in the Great Langdale Valley in northwest England were miners who extracted stone and flint for tools that have been found all over Britain and Ireland. And last year, points out Schuster, a survey of the Messak Settafet escarpment in the Sahara showed that humans depended on small quarries to produce huge numbers of stone tools. Pelts and spears aside, the last stage of the Stone Age may have been more industrial than previously thought.

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