Archaeologists say they have discovered the earliest known bone tools in European archaeological records.
Farmers from the famous Boxgrove site in West Sussex were excavated in the 1980s and 1990s.
Bone tools came from a horse that humans had butchered at the site for meat.
Fragments of rock piled up around the animal indicate that at least eight individuals made large flint knives for the job.
Researchers also found evidence that others nearby – possibly younger or older members of the community – shed light on the social structure of our ancient relatives.
There is nothing like Boxgrove elsewhere in England: during excavation, archaeologists discovered hundreds of stone tools, along with animal bones, dating back 500,000 years ago.
They are made by species Homo heidelbergensisa possible ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals.
Researchers found a shin bone that belonged to one of them – the oldest known human bone from England.
Project leader, Dr. Matthew Pope, from UCL’s Archaeological Institute, said: “This is an exceptionally rare opportunity to test a site as it has been left behind by an extinct population, after they had rallied to dispose of the entire corpse of a dead horse on the edge of a coastal marsh.
“Incredibly, we were able to get as close as possible to see the minute-to-minute movement and behavior of a seemingly coherent primitive group: a community of people, young and old. , working together in a highly cooperative and social way. “
Half a million years ago, the site was an intertidal marshland on what was supposed to be the south coast of England. There’s a cliff that’s starting to degrade, producing good rocks to work with – the process of making rock tools. Alluvium from the sea is also deposited here, creating a grassland.
“Grassland means herbivore and herbivore means food,” explained Dr. Pope.
Dr. Pope added that it is still unclear how the horse ended up in this landscape.
“Horses are very sociable animals and it is reasonable to assume that they are part of the herd, or are drawn to the shore for fresh water, or seaweed or to lick salt. For whatever reason, This horse – isolated from the herd – eventually died there, “Dr. Pope told BBC News.
“Maybe it was hunted – although we don’t have proof of it – and it’s right next to a tidal creek. The tide is low so humans can pass it. But soon after. , a tide rises and begins to cover the site with silt and fine clay.
The horse is not just providing food. Analysis of bone fragments by Simon Parfitt, from University College London Archeology Institute (UCL), and Dr. Silvia Bello, from London’s Natural History Museum, discovered that some of the bones were being used as the tool is called a touchback.
“These are some of the earliest non-stone tools found in the archaeological record of human evolution. They would be essential to the manufacture of flint knives,” Simon Parfitt said. Exquisitely crafted found in the wider Boxgrove landscape. “
Dr Bello added: “This finding provides evidence that early human cultures understood the properties of various organic materials and how tools were made to improve their manufacturing. create other tools.
She explains that “it provides additional evidence that the original Boxgrove population was cognitively, socially, and culturally sophisticated”.
The researchers believe that other members of the team – possibly 30 to 40 people – are nearby. They may have participated in a hunt to sell horse meat.
This might explain why it was completely ripped apart: the Boxgrove even broke bones for marrow and liquid fat.
Dr. Pope said that, more than just an activity for a few individuals at a hunting party, butcher could be a highly social event for these ancient people.
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