August 12, 2020


Aim for Excellence

We May Finally Know Why Early Humans Kept These Mysterious Stone Balls Around

Historic archaeological web sites across the Northern Hemisphere have been littered with a thriller. Exactly...

Historic archaeological web sites across the Northern Hemisphere have been littered with a thriller. Exactly where there were being hominins, there also could generally be located about rounded spheres of stone. Some have been dated again to over 2 million many years in the past, with marks suggesting that the balls had been deliberately formed.


New investigation has found a plausible intent for these odd equipment: Our ancestors could have been making use of them to smash open bones – to get to the nutritious marrow inside.

An international group of researchers led by archaeologist Ella Assaf of Tel-Aviv College in Israel manufactured a close evaluation of ten these stones located at Qesem Cave, a Decreased Paleolithic website occupied by early human beings between 400,000 and 200,000 many years in the past.

This is curious, mainly because it really is the newest regarded physical appearance of these equipment, a timeframe when other communities had lengthy in the past stopped making use of them. So Assaf and her group investigated to locate out far more about these stones, and how they obtained there.

Not only did they locate evidence supporting the stones’ use in bone marrow extraction on the stone artefacts by themselves, they smashed open bones with replicas to ascertain their efficacy. Spoiler: bones were being smashed, marrow extracted.

“We present new benefits from Center Pleistocene Qesem Cave on the use of these implements as percussion equipment,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“As bone marrow played a central function in human nutrition in the Decreased Paleolithic, and our experimental benefits display that the morphology and traits of formed stone ball replicas are effectively-suited for the extraction of bone marrow, we propose that these characteristics could have been the explanation for their collection and use at Qesem Cave.”

(Assaf et al., PLOS A single, 2020)

The group took a double-pronged technique to finding out the intent of the balls.

Initial, they comprehensively examined 29 historical balls located in the cave. These are not properly rounded stones, but have rough ridges exactly where flakes have been knapped away.


All but one of them – one was flint – were being manufactured out of dolomite or limestone unique from other rocks located in the spot, and they had a various patina from other equipment located in the cave. This suggests the stone balls had been stored in a various environment for some time right before ending up at Qesem Cave.

This is fascinating, mainly because it is constant with earlier findings on other equipment in the cave. Whoever the inhabitants were being, they had a practice of getting equipment in other sites and bringing them residence for their have use. In other text, they recycled.

Of these 29 stone balls, 10 retained traces of use-put on and residue, so the group conducted electronic stereomicroscopy and metallographic microscopy to look at them far more closely. They analysed residues located in the marks involved with the use-put on, and manufactured an fascinating discovery.

“Archaeological residues have morphological characteristics, physical appearance, colour, and distribution appropriate with compact and spongy bone, natural and organic bone shiny film, collagen fibers, and animal fatty issues observed on experimental stone balls employed in bone marrow extraction things to do,” they wrote in their paper.


“In specific, on the leading of the prominent ridges, residues look as spots of natural and organic film with a shiny and generally striated physical appearance. They coexist with spots of crushed amorphous white  residues constant with bone unwanted fat and collagen fibers in some cases also smeared and crushed on to the tools’ scars.”

That delivers us to the 2nd prong. Dependent on the use-put on scars and residue styles, the group initial knapped their have balls out of various kinds of rock, then examined them on cow and sheep bones. They also examined by natural means formed easy stones.

And they located that the replicas of the Qesem Cave stones were being the most successful at cracking open bone to get to the marrow therein, and that the ridges help crack the bone in a thoroughly clean break.

This suggests that the cave inhabitants were being wise sufficient to know a great point when they observed it. Why carry out the arduous function of generating a new instrument when a properly good one was out there?

This also matches up with investigation released past 12 months. Yet another group of researchers offered evidence that bone marrow was a really important section of the diet plan of the unknown hominins who inhabited Qesem Cave – so important that they would store it for up to 9 weeks, to hold a rich food items resource out there for afterwards consumption.

So not only do we know that bone marrow was deeply important to the inhabitants of the Qesem Cave, we also know that they were being fairly savvy when it arrived to food items means.

“These benefits lose light on the functionality of formed stone balls and are constant with the importance of animal unwanted fat in the caloric ingestion of Center Pleistocene human beings as revealed by the archaeozoological evidence at Qesem Cave and maybe beyond,” the researchers wrote.

But as to what the balls were being employed for right before they arrived to Qesem Cave? Effectively, which is still a huge old thriller ready to be solved.

The investigation has been released in PLOS A single.