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Aranbaltza is an archaeological complex formed by at least three open-air sites. Between 2014 and 2015 a test excavation carried out in Aranbaltza III revealed the presence of a sand and clay sedimentary sequence formed in floodplain environments, within which six sedimentary units have been identified. This sequence was formed between 137–50 ka, and includes several archaeological horizons, attesting to the long-term presence of Neanderthal communities in this area. One of these horizons, corresponding with Unit 4, yielded two wooden tools. One of these tools is a beveled pointed tool that was shaped through a complex operational sequence involving branch shaping, bark peeling, twig removal, shaping, polishing, thermal exposition and chopping. A use-wear analysis of the tool shows it to have traces related with digging soil so it has been interpreted as representing a digging stick. This is the first time such a tool has been identified in a European Late Middle Palaeolithic context; it also represents one of the first well-preserved Middle Palaeolithic wooden tool found in southern Europe. This artefact represents one of the few examples available of wooden tool preservation for the European Palaeolithic, allowing us to further explore the role wooden technologies played in Neanderthal communities.
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A Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick
from Aranbaltza III, Spain
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
*, Oriol Lo
, Eneko Iriarte
, Carlos Pe
Raquel Pique
, Arantza Aranburu
, Marı
´a Jose
, Illuminada Ortega-
, Laurence Bourguignon
, Diego Garate
, Iñaki Libano
1Centro Nacional de Investigacio
´n sobre la Evolucio
´n Humana (CENIEH), Burgos, Spain, 2Department of
Prehistory, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, 3Laboratorio de Evolucio
´n Humana,
Universidad de Burgos, Burgos, Spain, 4Departamento de Cristalografı
´a y Mineralogı
´a, Facultad de
´a, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain, 5Departamento de Mineralogı
´a y Petrologı
Facultad de Ciencia y Tecnologı
´a, Universidad del Paı
´s Vasco/EHU, Leioa, Spain, 6Departamento de
´a, Prehistoria y Arqueologı
´a, Facultad de Letras, Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea UPV/EHU, Vitoria-
Gasteiz, Spain, 7IKERBASQUE, Basque Foundation for Science, Bilbao, Spain, 8INRAP, UMR 7041
Arscan/AnTet, Campagne, France, 9Ramo
´n y Cajal Senior Grant, Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones
´ricas de Cantabria, Universidad de Cantabria, Gobierno de Cantabria, Santander, Spain,
10 Edestiaurre Arkeologia Elkartea, Barrika, Spain
Aranbaltza is an archaeological complex formed by at least three open-air sites. Between
2014 and 2015 a test excavation carried out in Aranbaltza III revealed the presence of a
sand and clay sedimentary sequence formed in floodplain environments, within which six
sedimentary units have been identified. This sequence was formed between 137–50 ka,
and includes several archaeological horizons, attesting to the long-term presence of Nean-
derthal communities in this area. One of these horizons, corresponding with Unit 4, yielded
two wooden tools. One of these tools is a beveled pointed tool that was shaped through a
complex operational sequence involving branch shaping, bark peeling, twig removal, shap-
ing, polishing, thermal exposition and chopping. A use-wear analysis of the tool shows it to
have traces related with digging soil so it has been interpreted as representing a digging
stick. This is the first time such a tool has been identified in a European Late Middle Palaeo-
lithic context; it also represents one of the first well-preserved Middle Palaeolithic wooden
tool found in southern Europe. This artefact represents one of the few examples available of
wooden tool preservation for the European Palaeolithic, allowing us to further explore the
role wooden technologies played in Neanderthal communities.
The production and use of wooden tools in the European Late Lower-Early Middle Palaeo-
lithic has been indirectly attested through use-wear analyses [14], but direct evidence is much
more scarce, most likely due to preservational biases, and only a few sites above latitude 48
have yielded preserved wooden tools (Scho¨ningen, Lehringen and Clacton) [58]. The site of
Bad-Cannstatt, in Germany, has also yielded maple (Acer campester) fragments interpreted
as tools, but theses remains were heavily altered and thus are difficult to interpret [9].
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 1 / 15
Citation: Rios-Garaizar J, Lo
´O, Iriarte E,
´rez-Garrido C, Pique
´R, Aranburu A, et al. (2018)
A Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from
Aranbaltza III, Spain. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0195044.
Editor: Marco Peresani, Universita degli Studi di
Ferrara, ITALY
Received: October 9, 2017
Accepted: March 15, 2018
Published: March 28, 2018
Copyright: ©2018 Rios-Garaizar et al. This is an
open access article distributed under the terms of
the Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author and source are credited.
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are
within the paper and its Supporting Information
Funding: The archeological work at Aranbaltza site
is financed by the Diputacio
´n Foral de Bizkaia
(2147/2013; 1602/2014; 2396/2015; 1518/2016;
1797/2017), the Basque Government (Gobierno
Vasco: 2015/04424; 2014/03867). The funders had
no role in study design, data collection and
analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the
Interestingly, most of these wooden tools have been interpreted as throwing and thrusting
spears. This is the case for the Lehringen spears, for the Clacton spear fragment and for most
of the tools recovered in Scho¨ningen. Most of these tools were made on Taxus baccata (yew,
Clacton and Lehringen) and Picea sp. (spruce, Scho¨ningen), with some examples on Pinus syl-
vestris (pine, Scho¨ningen). The technology required to produce these spears was quite com-
plex: to begin with, a long and thin shaft was selected, the bark and the knots were removed
and the point, usually placed away from the central axis of the trunk, was obtained through
scraping and polishing, maybe aided by fire [10]. Some authors have argued that this kind of
tool production represents a significant cognitive leap for hominids because the complexity
involved in the process implies abstraction and in-depth planning capacities [11]. Others, on
the other hand, have argued that the wooden tool-making process might have been far more
simple than is currently thought [12]. Besides, other kinds of wooden tools have been also
identified, but are less abundant, among them the pointed stick from Scho¨ningen [6]. In
southern Europe the only direct evidence of wooden tools predating modern human arrival
are the wooden artefacts from Abric Romanı
´and the recently discovered sticks from Poggetti
Vecchi. At Poggetti Vecchi more than 30 fragments interpreted as sticks have been recovered
from a MIS7-6 open air context [13,14]. At Abric Romanı
´putative tool functions have been
inferred from the morphologies of the wooden artefacts, including objects interpreted as ves-
sels or shovels [15–16. One single wooden pseudomorph from Abric Romanı
´level J has been
interpreted as a possible digging stick or fragment of a stake [17].
Here we present a wooden pointed tool found at Aranbaltza III (Basque Country, northern
Spain) dated to the early Late Pleistocene, which represents the oldest wooden tool from south-
ern Europe, in this case associated with Neanderthals.
Archaeological setting
The site of Aranbaltza is located in the coast of Basque region, close to Bilbao. The site is situ-
ated in the bottom of a small valley that runs towards the Butron river-mouth. Although the
current coastline is very close to the site (800 m NW) it is separated from the site by a raised
cliff (90 m.a.s.l). The site was discovered in 2004 [18], close to the site of Ollagorta, where in
1959 J.M. Barandiaran excavated several test-pits in the front area of a sand quarry [19]. Since
2013 archaeological excavations at the Aranbaltza complex have identified three archaeological
sites (Aranbaltza I, II and III) (Fig 1) with comparable archaeo-sedimentary sequences span-
ning from the Late Middle Pleistocene all the way to the Holocene.
At Aranbaltza III a 2m
test pit was excavated between 2014 and 2015 (UTM 30N x:
502713.6, y: 4805178.6, z: 37). As part of this excavation, a total of six lithostratigraphic units
and four sedimentary facies were defined (Fig 2) (S1 File). From top to bottom:
Unit 0 represents modern reworked sediments.
Unit 1 is a channel sandy infill with a basal lag where abundant Mousterian lithic remains
were found (S2 File).
Unit 2, which is archaeologically sterile, has been interpreted as representing an incised
channel infill consisting of multiple sandy high density flowing events, extensively altered by
edaphic processes (podzolization).
Unit 3 is made up of bioturbated floodplain clays and, as the previous unit, is archaeologi-
cally sterile.
Unit 4 is a thick sand deposit interpreted as representing a tractive sandy sediment sheet
formed in a crevasse splay/channel; In this unit two wooden tools and a single flint tool (see
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
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Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
Fig 1. (top) location of the Aranbaltza archaeological complex; (bottom) position and extension of the different excavation areas. Raster data
obtained from Eusko Jaurlaritza / Gobierno Vasco. GeoEuskadi and from the European Environment Agency. Rivers and bathymetry vectors
obtained from Natural Earth. Map elaborated with QGIS 2.8 Wien and Inkscape 0.91.
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 3 / 15
S2 File) were recovered. One of the wooden tools is the point described here (S5 File), the
other one is a fragment of a pulled out branch that preserves part of the ripped joint with the
parent trunk, having the distal end intentionally pointed (S6 File). Both tools were found in
almost vertical position inside the sandy sediment, and both of them bear abrasion traces
caused by sand in movement, as does the flint tool recovered with them. This suggests that
the pieces were not in situ but reworked from stratigraphically older lateral deposits (proba-
bly Unit 5).
Fig 2. Lithostratigraphic panel and synthetic stratigraphic column of the Aranbaltza III site. The locations of wooden remains, OSL, pollen and sedimentological
samples are noted.
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
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Unit 5 consists of interbedded decimetre-scale layers of grey-to-blackish sandy organic
muds (subunits 5a and 5c) and clayey sands (subunits 5b and 5d) deposited in a vegetated
backswamp area where sandy sediments were deposited during flood events (crevasse chan-
nels or lobules); this unit is rich in lithic artefacts (S2 File) and unworked wood remains.
Unit 6 is an incised channel infill corresponding to multiple sandy high-density flowing
events, and it is archaeologically sterile.
Lithostratigraphical units 1, 2, 4 and 6 correspond to different types of fluvial channel infill-
ings, the former and latter are probably laterally migrating shallow channels, while Unit 2 cor-
responds to an incised channel infill consisting of multiple sediment gravity flows. The lower
lithostratigraphic units, (3, 4 and 5), are interpreted as representing overbank fine architectural
elements, deposited in floodplain environments. The observed lithofacies were deposited in
crevasse splay and backswamp environments. Units 2, 3, 4 and 6 have been dated by OSL (S3
File). Despite the problems of differential bleaching of quartz grains, the sequence can be
dated confidently between ca. 137–50 ka. The Minimum Age Model for Unit 4 yielded an age
of 70.0±8.4 ka.
The pollen analysis carried out for Unit 4 suggests a formation under relatively temperate
and humid conditions. The dynamics of Gramineae, heathers and Compositae (main compo-
nents of the herbaceous-shrub layer), alongside the diversity of hydrophyte and vascular
aquatic plants (Ranunculaceae, Cyperaceae, Liliaceae, Typha and Potagometon) and bryo-
phytes like Sphagnum suggest the presence of a waterlogged environment. Tree cover (circa
40%) is dominated by conifers (>70%) and mixed deciduous forest. Among the latter, Taxus
pollen has been identified.
The wooden pointed tool recovered at Aranbaltza III, is analyzed here. A morphological
description, an anatomic and taxonomic classification, a technological analysis and a use-wear
analysis will be presented.
The piece became deformed as a result of the preservation procedures, including shrinking
and bending. The original morphology of the piece was reconstructed using virtual restoration
procedures comprising photos of the piece obtained at the moment of its discovery and the
surface scans made taken with an Artec Spider scan (S4 File,S5 File). The morphological and
metric description was made using this restored model and the actual piece, which, thanks to
the preservation techniques employed, shows very well preserved surfaces.
The external morphology and the internal structure of the piece were analyzed in order to
classify it anatomically. The internal structure analysis was carried out by means of a MicroCT
scan of the piece. The sample was scanned using a 240 kV X-ray tube working at 50 kV and
100 μA, producing 1200 radiographs at a 27 μm resolution.
For the taxonomic classification, a small splint of wood was extracted from the surface that
was damaged during excavation, and the identification was made through its microscopic
analysis and comparison with a reference atlas [20].
For the technological analysis, the morphometric and anatomic features were considered
(for example the position of the central pitch), and the technological wear observed on the sur-
face was characterized and compared against already-available descriptions [6,8] and experi-
mentally-reproduced wooden tools [21]. The undertaking of a high power use-wear analysis
was not possible due to preservation issues, but a low-power analysis was carried out in order
to obtain direct insights on tool-function [21].
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 5 / 15
The wooden pointed tool
The point was recovered during the section cleaning of Unit 4 and, as a result, suffered some
damage to one of its sides. The pointed tool was initially photographed and then stored in a
watertight container alongside the original sediment in which it was found. The microscopic
analysis of a small fragment recovered from the damaged area has allowed us to identify the
tree species from which it was made: yew (Taxus baccata) (Fig 3). The presence of this species
in the surroundings of the site was also identified in the pollen analysis. Although this species
has rarely been identified in Pleistocene archaeological contexts [22], it was used to make the
spears found at Clacton-on-Sea and Lehringen [5,6]. In the Iberian Peninsula only a few yew
charcoal remains have been identified for this period, at the Middle Palaeolithic site of Can
Costella [23] (northeast Iberian Peninsula). Yew is highly appreciated in woodworking because
its wood is hard, flexible and rot-resistant; it has been used traditionally to make spears and
bows [24].
The original morphology of the piece was a straight stick 151.7 mm in length and 28.6 mm
in width, with an irregular or slightly oval transversal section, with a pointed distal end
(rounded U-shape) and a beveled proximal part (Fig 4). One third of the surface corresponds
to the sub-cortical part of a big branch, with small twig knots on it. The growing direction of
the twigs is towards the pointed end indicating that the beveled end was the closest to the
roots. The internal structure of the point, more precisely the growing rings, reveals that
towards the base the centre of the branch is located close to the lateral surface, while the point
is placed far away from the central axis of the branch (Fig 5). Half of the diameter of branch is
preserved at the base, while only a fraction of it is preserved in the point area. The piece does
not show bark or inner bark.
The surface shows little technological evidence of chopping and shaping (Fig 6). Only two
small cut-marks, corresponding with the latest phases of shaping, have been noted on the sur-
face. The twig knots do not show any wear linked to trimming using a cutting edge, thus we
could interpret these as having simply been pulled off (Fig 6B). The surface is polished (Fig
6D), which could probably explain the absence of other manufacture traces; nevertheless we
were not able to rule out the possibility that this polish was the result of an alteration caused by
the contact with the sandy sediments of Unit 4. Also, the surface shows important colouration
changes, with reddish and blackish tones (Fig 6C), suggesting that the point underwent a ther-
mal alteration, maybe as a result of its hardening and/or shaping through the use of fire [10,
14]. The bevel on the proximal end reveals a rough surface, with exposed fibres and two
Fig 3. Tree species identification. a) CT scan image of the transversal cross-section; the distinct growth rings of a coniferous wood can be seen. b)
Longitudinal-tangential cross-section, rays between 6 and 11 cells high can be distinguished. c) Longitudinal-radial cross-section, spiral thickenings on
the tracheid walls can be observed.
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 6 / 15
different planes, suggesting that it was chopped by means of two strokes (Fig 6E and 6F). The
surface of the bevel does not show traces of polishing. These differences in the surface could
suggest that the bevel was shaped after the point was finished and used. This would mean that
Fig 4. The wooden pointed tool. a) Photograph showing the pointed tool immediately following its recovery. b) Current appearance of the point
fragment following preservation efforts.
Fig 5. Selected MicroCT slices. The red dots indicate the actual or estimated position of the centre of the branch.
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 7 / 15
this is a recycled tool fragment, but we cannot rule out that this simply represents a different
technological treatment of different parts of the same tool.
Fig 6. Technological and use wear features. a) Detail of the smashed fibres in the point 1: Aranbaltza pointed stick, 2: experimental pointed stick with
smashed fibres on its pointed end [21]; b) detail of the pulled-off twig knot; c) detail of the thermal alteration 4: red colouration, 5: black colouration; d)
microscopic detail of the polished surface; e) detail of the beveled end with the two plans corresponding to the two chopping strokes; f) small cut mark
on the wood surface.
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 8 / 15
Finally, the point shows that the smashed fibres on its end were caused by some kind of
repetitive mechanical stress only affecting that particular area (Fig 6A1). This kind of wear has
been identified on Neolithic wooden pointed digging sticks at the site of La Draga [18], and
the experimental replicas of these digging sticks demonstrate that this kind of use-wear is
produced when removing medium-to-hard soil (Fig 6A2). Similar use-wear has also been
recorded on the wooden tools identified as digging sticks at the site of Border Cave (South
Africa) [25]. The Aranbaltza point tip also has a rounded (U-shaped) morphology, while the
spear points recovered from Middle Pleistocene sites in Northern Europe have sharper
(‘pointed’) tips. Thus, the morphology and the use-wear of the Aranbaltza point suggests that
it was used as a digging stick.
Although the preservation of the piece does not allow for a precise description of the opera-
tional sequence to be put forward, we are able to identify a combination of operations, includ-
ing branch shaping, bark peeling, twig removal, shaping, (probable) polishing, thermal
exposition and chopping. The available evidence suggests that, as was the case with the Scho¨-
ningen and Lehringen spears [6,8], a whole branch or a thin trunk was used and the point end
was placed away from the central axis. Evidence of use has also been identified suggesting that
this artefact was used in a mechanical activity, like digging. Due to the short length of the point
the idea that the preserved point is a recycled fragment of a bigger tool cannot be ruled out.
The finding of wooden artefacts in Pleistocene archaeological sites in Europe is exceptionally
rare. Up to now few well-preserved artefacts have been recovered from Middle Pleistocene
deposits in Northern Europe, and few more from Upper Pleistocene sites [58,1416]. The
preservation in Aranbaltza III was favoured by the formation of a waterlogged reducing depo-
sitional environment due to the rapid sedimentation of organic-rich sands and clays in a flood-
plain swampy area. The wooden point fragment was found in a sandy and slightly tractive
deposit (Unit 4), and was probably reworked from nearby exposed underlying sediments from
Unit 5, where favorable conditions for wood preservation and the presence of wooden remains
have been confirmed. The age of these deposits ranges between 58–137 ka, this apparently age
incertitude can be explained by the insufficient bleaching of quartz sand grains due to the
nature of their sedimentary processes, which implied quick erosion and deposition at a short
distance from the original sediment. The age obtained from the sandy sediments contempora-
neous with or younger than Unit 5 in another sector of Aranbaltza III was ca. 90 ka, which
could be interpreted as the most probable age for the pointed tool. The lithic assemblages
recovered from Units 4 and 5, albeit scarce, point clearly to the Middle Palaeolithic with Dis-
coid technology. Middle Palaeolithic occupations in the region are known since MIS7-6. Sev-
eral sites have occupations dated to the MIS5-4 interval, with Arlanpe, Lezetxiki or Askondo as
the most relevant [2628]. The Early and Late Middle Palaeolithic in the region are character-
ized by great behavioural variability; the long-distance transport of lithic raw materials [29],
the trend towards microlithization [30], the use of complex hunting technologies [31], the fire
control and use [32], use of bone tools [33,34], a certain degree of prey specialization [35] or
the exploitation of marine resources [36] being especially remarkable. We should now add
elaborate wooden technology to this behavioural complexity, drawing a picture of well-
adapted and flexible Neanderthal populations in the region.
The oldest wooden tools, recovered at Scho¨ningen and Clacton, are associated with Lower
Palaeolithic industries, and reveal an early use of wooden artefacts for hunting and other activ-
ities [57]. The wooden sticks from Poggetti Vecchi have been dated to MIS7-6, and thus can
be also associated to Neanderthals. The function of these objects, inferred from their
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 9 / 15
morphologies, has been interpreted as digging sticks [14]. The spear from Lehringen was
recovered in a sedimentary deposit dated to ca. 125.000 BP, and thus, is associated with Nean-
derthals [8]. This tool has been interpreted as a thrusting spear, similar to the spear VI from
Scho¨ningen, while other spears from Scho¨ningen have been interpreted as throwing spears [6].
At Abric Romanı
´several wooden pseudomorphs were reported in levels H, I, Ksup and M,
dated to the Late Middle Palaeolithic [1516,37].
The few available direct and indirect lines of evidence suggest that wood played a significant
role in Neanderthal technological adaptations. Wood provides enough plasticity to shape a var-
ied array of tools that are impossible to obtain through the use of stones, and very difficult to
obtain with bones, which have constrained sizes and are more difficult to work. The use of bone
technology by Neanderthals has been widely demonstrated, but the extent of activities identified
is, up to now, very limited and linked to domestic activities (polishers, chisels, retouchers) [33
34,3843]. Wood was surely used for manufacturing hunting weapons and as fuel [37,44].
Other functions, as containers, hammers, or shelter construction materials, should not be ruled
out even if the evidence is very scarce or completely absent [15,45]. Different stone-tool types
that have woodworking-related use-wear or tools that must have necessarily been used with a
wooden haft (e.g. stone spear-points) are indirect evidence of wood use in the past [30,4652].
This paper has presented a new Middle Paleolithic wooden tool. The shape of this tool and
the evidence of use suggest its function as digging instrument. Digging stick is a common tool
in hunter gatherer societies, being root digging one of the main functions [5356], although
other uses as loosening bark or clam-digging have been also recorded.
The variability in shape and dimensions in archaeological and ethnographical digging sticks
is enormous. According to Oswalt [55] digging-sticks are multi purpose tools and probably
this explains the high morphological variability of ethnographic digging sticks. For example,
the measures of ethnographic materials from Australian collections recorded by Nugent ranges
between 420x30 mm to 1684x33 mm [57]. Similar variability has been recorded in ethno-
graphic databases [5859].
The length of Aranbaltza point is short compared with most of ethnographic digging sticks
recorded, but it’s not rare. Different examples of short (less than 30 cm length) digging sticks
can be found in ethnography [58,6061] as well as in archaeology [25,62]. Besides, the Ara-
nbaltza point displays cutting marks at the opposite end of the tip, showing the possibility of
having been shortened. For this reason it can’t be discarded the possibility that the original
length of this point was longer. Other wooden tools from Middle Paleolithic sites have been
also interpreted as wooden sticks. A pointed wooden pseudomorph from Abric Romanı
´’s level
J (ca. 50 kyr) has been interpreted, based on its morphology, as a massive digging stick, or
more probably as the end of a post or a stake, but no direct use-wear evidence is available [17].
Also, the tool fragments from Poggetti Vecchi have been interpreted from its morphology as
digging sticks [14].
Digging soil can be done for different reasons, for finding edible USOs (Underground Stor-
age Organs- tubers and roots) or animals; for extracting lithic raw materials or for making neg-
ative structures (i.e. pot holes or sepultures). In the archaeological record there is almost no
empirical evidence to support this kind of activities, which have been inferred through indirect
evidence. For example, the consumption of USOs by Neanderthals in Europe has been sug-
gested through direct analysis of dental calculus or fecal remains [6365]. In the surroundings
of Aranbaltza different edible USOs would have been available given their known distributions
in different climatic scenarios [66]. Furthermore, the pollen analysis from Unit 4 revealed the
presence of cattails (Typha), indicating that plants with edible USOs could be found close to
the site. On the other hand, there is little evidence of underground animal gathering through
digging [67], but the presence of hare and rabbit has been documented in contemporary sites
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 10 / 15
like Axlor, Lezetxiki, Covalejos or Atxagakoa [6870]. Also, shellfish gathering has been pro-
posed as a possible function for digging sticks. Although no direct evidence is available at the
site, in the nearby site of El Cuco, dated back ca. 44 ka BP [36] unquestionable evidence of lim-
pet consume has been recorded. Regarding raw material collection, the presence of flint from
primary sources has been attested in different levels of Aranbaltza III, and also in the Middle
Palaeolithic levels from Aranbaltza I. Flysch flint appears in different contexts close to the site
(<500 m). Interestingly, the best quality flint is nowadays present in a muddy olitostrome [71]
and some digging was probably needed to extract the nodules. Finally, Neanderthals are
known to have dug simple structures into the soil to build shelters [45] or to bury corpses [72].
In Aranbaltza I, remnants of stone structures (pavements, fireplaces and windshields) built by
Neanderthals have been found in association with abundant lithic remains probably contem-
poraneous with Unit 1 from Aranbaltza III. For this kind of construction to take place a certain
degree of digging must have been needed.
A well-preserved Middle Palaeolithic wooden tool has been recovered in southern Europe. The
analysis of the technological features and the use-wear of the artefact have revealed that it was
shaped from a yew trunk through a complex operational sequence to create a pointed tool that
was used as a digging stick. This one of the first evidence of such a tool in a Late European Middle
Palaeolithic context and its possible functions have been explored, including its use in the pro-
curement of USOs, burrowing animals, and/or lithic raw materials; or to dig features in the soil.
This is one of the rarer examples in which we are able to delve directly into Palaeolithic wooden
technology thanks to the particular and exceptional preservation conditions of this piece. This
artefact highlights the relevance that wooden technology must have had for Neanderthal commu-
nities, a relevance that has been perceived almost always through indirect sources of evidence.
Supporting information
S1 File. Stratigraphy and sedimentology of Aranbaltza III sequence.
S2 File. Lithic assemblages from Aranbaltza III sequence.
S3 File. OSL dating.
S4 File. Virtual reconstruction of the pointed tool (right) obtained from 3D model of the
piece at its current condition (left).
S5 File. 3D reconstruction of the wooden pointed tool (.obj file with texture).
S6 File. 3D reconstruction of the other wooden tool from U4 (.obj file with texture).
The archeological work at Aranbaltza site is funded by the Diputacio
´n Foral de Bizkaia (2013–
2017) and the Basque Government (2014, 2015). The project was also helped by the Barrika
Town Council and Harpea Kultur Elkartea. The site of Aranbaltza is located in the private
Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 11 / 15
property of the “Club Hı
´pico Barrika” and during the fieldwork we always had the disinter-
ested help of the owner, Damia
´n Libano. The Microscopy Laboratory technicians Bele
Notario Collado and Pablo Pardo (CENIEH) helped through the CT scan and the microscopic
analysis of the piece. Asier Go
´mez-Olivencia (IKERBASQUE) helped with the CT scan image
processing. Pablo Aparicio made the virtual restoration of the piece. The restoration techni-
cian, Pilar Fernandez (CENIEH) preserved the piece in its current condition. Patricia Bello
(CENIEH) was helpful providing tuber processing references. We want to thank also Ara-
nbaltza fieldwork volunteers, especially Daniel Ruiz and Fazia Bouchoud who found the point,
and the Arkeologi Museoa of Bilbao.
Author Contributions
Conceptualization: Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Oriol Lo
´, Illuminada Ortega-Cordellat.
Formal analysis: Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Oriol Lo
´, Eneko Iriarte, Carlos Pe
rido, Raquel Pique
´, Arantza Aranburu, Marı
´a Jose
Funding acquisition: Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Illuminada Ortega-Cordellat, Diego Garate, Iñaki
Investigation: Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Oriol Lo
´, Eneko Iriarte, Carlos Pe
Illuminada Ortega-Cordellat, Laurence Bourguignon.
Methodology: Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Oriol Lo
´, Eneko Iriarte, Carlos Pe
Raquel Pique
´, Arantza Aranburu, Marı
´a Jose
Project administration: Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Diego Garate.
Supervision: Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Iñaki Libano.
Writing – original draft: Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Oriol Lo
´, Eneko Iriarte, Carlos
´rez-Garrido, Raquel Pique
´, Arantza Aranburu, Marı
´a Jose
´Iriarte-Chiapusso, Illuminada
Ortega-Cordellat, Laurence Bourguignon, Diego Garate, Iñaki Libano.
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Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III
PLOS ONE | March 28, 2018 15 / 15
... However, the low number of well-preserved wooden remains of ancient times limits our knowledge regarding the type of objects created using this material, as well as the actions carried out in the manufacturing processes (e.g. Aranguren et al., 2018;Carbonell & Castro-Curel, 1992;Corchón Rodríguez, 1999;Gaspari et al., 2011;Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018;Thieme, 1997). ...
... Three other pieces belonging to a 2 m-long spear aged to 125Ky BP were also found in Lehringen (Germany), including a conical tip thermally modified with the purpose of hardening the surface (Movius, 1950;Thieme & Veil, 1985). Another piece classified as a digging stick aged to 90Ky BP was located in Aranbaltza III (Spain), whose thermal modification traces indicate the use of fire to facilitate the scraping and hardening of surfaces (Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018). ...
... Allué et al., 2017;Desprat et al., 2015;Théry-Parisot & Texier, 2006;Vidal-Matutano, 2018), and yew because many of the wooden objects found in Palaeolithic sites are made from this type of wood (e.g. Oakley et al., 1977;Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018;Thieme & Veil, 1985). ...
Full-text available
Throughout prehistoric times, woodworking was an essential activity. We know this because of the existence of preserved wooden objects, as well as the use-wear traces recorded on lithic tools. In general terms, functional studies and experimental programs have aimed to analyze and understand the use-wear traces generated by green and dry wood. However, some of the wood remains preserved across time show signs of thermal alteration caused by fire. For this reason, we have carried out an experimental program in which green, dry and thermoaltered wood have been worked in order to study the traces generated on the lithic tools. The results show significant differences between the use-wear traces generated by green and dry woods, and thermally altered wood. This indicates that it would be possible to recognize signs of work with thermoaltered wood on archaeological lithic tools and, therefore, to better understand the working processes of past populations.
... Hacer de los grupos cazadores y recolectores modelos vivientes del pasado puede ser simplista y algo reduccionista (véase Fitzpatrick & Berbesque, 2018;Hawkes, O'Connell, & Blurton Jones, 2018, y los trabajos citados en ambos artículos). Sin embargo, como se adelantó en la introducción, las conductas actuales, al igual que la biología y la fisiología, son el resultado de la adaptación a diferentes ambientes a lo largo de la evolución (Caro & Borgerhoff Mulder, 1987;Nettle et al., 2013), por lo que no se descarta que tales actividades ya fueran comunes en el pasado, sobre todo atendiendo a las dos actividades de recolección (Aranguren et al., 2018;D'Errico et al., 2012;Hunt, 1994;Revedin, Grimaldi, Florindi, Santaniello, & Aranguren, 2020;Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018;Zeller, 1987) y, sin duda alguna, a la tercera referente a la locomoción (Hatala et al., 2016;Hunt, 1994;Vidal-Cordasco, 2020;Vidal-Cordasco et al., 2021). Además, como destacan Milks y colaboradores (2021), prestando atención al registro etnográfico actual se puede obtener una mejor comprensión del comportamiento humano y la diversidad cultural, lo que puede ampliar los marcos interpretativos para comprender el pasado (Milks, Lew-Levy, Lavi, Friesem, & Reckin, 2021). ...
... Especies como Homo neanderthalensis, y posiblemente sus ancestros, pudieron alcanzar el tamaño adulto con mayor precocidad que Homo sapiens, pero también requerían del aprendizaje de habilidades complejas (Estalrrich & Marín-Arroyo, 2021;A. Henry, Brooks, & Piperno, 2014;Marín, Saladié, Rodríguez-Hidalgo, & Carbonell, 2017;Rios-Garaizar, 2020;Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018;Rodriguez-Hidalgo et al., 2017;Romagnoli, Baena, & Sarti, 2016;Villa et al., 2020). Si se cumpliesen ambas condiciones en esas especies (desarrollarse más rápido y tener que aprender habilidades complejas), se observaría una mayor dependencia energética, derivada de mantener un cuerpo de mayor tamaño mientras se practica y aprende. ...
Esta tesis doctoral responde al interés de comprender el papel de la energía en las relaciones entre el ser humano y su entorno, siendo la energía la que modela y ajusta las adaptaciones biológicas y conductuales de los organismos terrestres y, por extensión, de la especie humana. Son varios los estudios dentro de la ecología del comportamiento humano que han utilizado la energía para comprender la adaptación y la adaptabilidad humana. Dicha adaptabilidad es fruto de la flexibilidad que muestra nuestra especie, adquirida gracias a la prolongada inmadurez de Homo sapiens. Sin embargo, son menores los estudios que se han centrado en comprender cómo actúa la energía en la conducta y la biología de los individuos subadultos. Por ello, el principal interés de esta investigación es estudiar cómo afecta la energía a la puesta en marcha de diferentes actividades de subsistencia imprescindibles en los grupos de cazadores y recolectores. Concretamente, se evaluará si el inicio de la división de labores por sexo se explica en base a diferencias en el coste y la eficiencia energética de los distintos individuos. Así mismo, se valorará el papel activo y la productividad de los individuos subadultos dentro de un grupo humano, y si ello se ve limitado por cuestiones energéticas. Finalmente, se analizará si el coste de la locomoción y la velocidad óptima alcanzada por sujetos subadultos puede limitar la movilidad y la puesta en marcha de actividades que dependen de la locomoción en grupos humanos. Con todo, se tratará de conocer si la energía actúa como un limitante a la hora de aprender y desarrollar actividades complejas propias de nuestra especie y cómo afecta esto a las dinámicas energéticas del resto de individuos de un grupo humano. Para ello se han empleado datos de dos estudios experimentales, llevados a cabo en el Laboratorio de Bioenergía y Análisis del Movimiento del Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH). Estos corresponden a 118 voluntarios de entre 7 y 14 años de edad, y recogen diferentes medidas antropométricas, de composición corporal y de gasto energético. Los dos estudios experimentales incluían simulaciones de actividades comunes entre los individuos subadultos de ciertos grupos de cazadores y recolectores de la actualidad, como la recolección y la extracción de recursos y caminar a diferentes velocidades. Los resultados obtenidos en el conjunto de las pruebas revelan que, tanto la energía gastada, como la eficiencia en una actividad productiva, no explican la diferencia de labores entre sexos, pero tampoco entre edades si se comparan con las velocidades óptimas adultas. Se propone que la división de labores en base al sexo debe responder a otras cuestiones, relacionadas con el aprendizaje temprano en habilidades complejas específicas para cada sexo. Además, debido a la relación entre el gasto energético y el tamaño corporal en actividades productivas en las que se aprenden esas habilidades, los individuos juveniles gozan de una ventaja, ya que comienzan a aprender en una fase en la que el crecimiento corporal se retiene y se consume menos energía porque se tiene un tamaño menor. Por ello, practicar durante esta etapa, supone un ahorro en forma de energía respecto a otras fases en las que se tiene un mayor tamaño corporal y sí se invierte más energía en crecimiento y desarrollo, como en la adolescencia. Por otro lado, el gasto energético de la prueba de extracción de recursos bien se cubriría con el retorno calórico facilitado por diferentes autores, pero no podríamos confirmar que se alcancen ya tasas de productividad adulta. En esta prueba también se ha demostrado que, igual que se observa en el gasto energético del resto de actividades aquí desarrolladas, tampoco existen diferencias entre sexos en la eficiencia derivada de extraer recursos del suelo. Este resultado se ha obtenido al tener en cuenta la tasa de eficiencia (energía gastada/retorno conseguido). Respecto a las actividades que dependen de la locomoción bípeda, no existen diferencias entre sexos en la velocidad óptima, ni el gasto derivado de alcanzar esta velocidad. Por lo tanto, se propone que ambas variables no condicionarían a los individuos aquí estudiados a la hora de acompañar a un grupo adulto de cazadores y recolectores, ni durante la movilidad ni mientras se captan recursos. Por otro lado, la capacidad para alcanzar velocidades óptimas semejantes a las publicadas para individuos adultos, podría suponer a los subadultos ventajas al consumir menos energía por ser más pequeños. No obstante, en determinadas sociedades estos individuos no se involucran en ciertas actividades de manera temprana, por lo que existen otras causas, más allá de la velocidad o el gasto energético, que pueden dificultar la participación de los subadultos en algunas actividades adultas. Todas estas ventajas han podido propiciar en la especie Homo sapiens un ahorro de energía que directamente, no solo beneficia al individuo subadulto, sino también a otros individuos del grupo. Muchas de las ventajas aquí expuestas se ven acompasadas por la peculiar historia biológica humana. Por ello, otras especies de homininos que hayan requerido del aprendizaje de habilidades complejas para subsistir, se habrían beneficiado de las mismas ventajas que exponemos en esta investigación, solo si hubiesen tenido los mismos patrones de desarrollo y crecimiento encontrados en Homo sapiens. The main interest of this Ph.D. Dissertation is to understand the key-role of the energy in the relationship between humans and the environment, since energy is the factor that models and adjusts the biological and behavioural adaptations of all living organisms and, by extension, of humans too. Several studies within the Human Behavioural Ecology have used the energy to understand human adaptation and adaptability. This adaptability is the main result of human plasticity, acquired thanks to the prolonged immaturity of Homo sapiens. However, fewer studies have focused on understanding how energy affects subadult behaviour and biology. Therefore, the main interest of this research is to study how energy affects the implementation of different essential human behaviours in hunter-gatherer societies. Specifically, it will be evaluated if the onset of division of labour by sex is caused by differences in the efficiency and the energetic demands of different individuals. In addition, the active role and the productivity of non-adult individuals will be assessed, together with possible energetic limitations in this regard. Finally, the cost of locomotion and the optimal speed will be analysed to test if non-adult individuals limit group mobility or the participation in foraging activities involving locomotion. Consequently, it will be discussed if energy is a limitation while learning-by-doing complex activities, commonly practiced by Homo sapiens species, and how this affects the energetic dynamics of a human group. To achieve this, data from two experimental studies carried out in the Laboratory of Bioenergy and Analysis of the Movement of the CENIEH have been used. Data were obtained from 118 volunteers between 7 and 14 years of age, and referred to different anthropometric, body composition and energy expenditure measurements. The two experimental studies consisted of three trials, simulating common activities among subadult individuals of certain groups of current hunter-gatherers. The recreated activities were a gathering test, a digging tubers trial, and a locomotion activity at different speeds. The results obtained in all of the experimental studies reveal that the energy expended and the efficiency in a productive activity do not explain the onset of sex division of labor. It is proposed that the division of labor is caused by other questions related to the early learning in sex-specific complex skills. In addition, due to the relationship between energy expenditure and body size in some productive activities (through which non-adults learn these skills), juvenile individuals have an energetic advantage, because they decelerate the body growth in this phase and they consume less energy due to their smaller body size. Therefore, learning-by-doing at this stage promotes energy savings compared to other phases with a larger body size and a greater somatic investment, like adolescence. On the other hand, the energy expenditure of digging would be covered with the energetic return reported by other investigations, but we cannot confirm that our individuals have already achieved adult productivity rates. In this test, taking into account the results of the efficiency index (energy expended/items reported) it has also been shown that there are no differences among sexes based on the efficiency of extracting tubers from the ground, as we have observed for the energy expenditure of the rest of the activities carried out here. Regarding the locomotion test, there are no differences among sexes, or ages when compared with adult values from other studies, neither comparing the optimal walking speed, nor the energy expenditure at this speed. Thus, it is proposed that both variables are not a limitation for the individuals here studied if they would be part of a hunter-gatherer group, neither during the mobility of the group, nor while foraging. On the other hand, our volunteers reach similar optimal speeds as those reported in the literature for adult individuals. This could constitute and advantage for non-adult individuals, as they are consuming less energy because they are smaller. Nonetheless, in certain societies, non-adult individuals are not involved in some activities anyway, thus there may be other causes, beyond speed or energy costs, that can hinder the participation of non-adults in some adult activities. All the mentioned advantages would allow energy savings for Homo sapiens. This savings would directly benefit the non-adult individual, but also the rest of the group. However, most of the advantages highlighted here are linked to the peculiar Homo sapiens Life History. Therefore, the advantages we expose in this research would benefit other extinct species with subsistence complex skills, only if Homo sapiens-like development and growth patterns were already present.
... Arlanpe (Rios-Garaizar et al., 2015), Axlor (González-Urquijo et al., 2005;Jones et al., 2018;Rios-Garaizar, 2005, 2017, Aranbaltza (Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018), Amalda I Rios-Garaizar, 2010;Sánchez-Romero et al., 2020), Urkulu (Iriarte-Chiapuso, 2013), Zerratu (Sáenz de Buruaga, 2005). However, Neanderthal fossil remains are scarce in this region and come from a few sites in the Basque Country. ...
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Objectives We reassess the taxonomic assignment and stratigraphic context of a permanent upper first molar and a permanent lower third premolar recovered from the archeological site of Lezetxiki in the North of the Iberian Peninsula. Materials and Methods We assessed the external and internal morphology of the teeth using qualitative descriptions, crown diameters, dental tissue proportions, and geometric morphometrics. The teeth from Lezetxiki were compared with Middle Pleistocene specimens, Neanderthals, Upper Paleolithic modern humans, and recent modern humans. Results Both teeth were consistent with a Neanderthal classification. The upper first molar shows taurodontism, and its cusp proportions and overall morphology match those of Neanderthals. Geometric morphometric analyses of occlusal anatomy classify this molar as a Neanderthal with a posterior probability of 76%. The lower third premolar, which was originally classified as a lower fourth premolar, also shows a Neanderthal morphology. This premolar is classified as a Neanderthal with a posterior probability of 60%. Discussion These teeth represent the only adult Neanderthal teeth from the Western Pyrenees region found to date. The teeth were found at a stratigraphic level (designated Level III) that marks the transition level from Mousterian to Aurignacian, and are among the most recent Neanderthal remains from the north of the Iberian Peninsula.
... Digging sticks have been ethnographically attested for as tools to harvest tubers and other underground storage organs (e.g. Vincent 1985), and they have been exceptionally preserved in several archaeological sites across the world starting from the Middle Palaeolithic (Golson 2017, Nugent 2006, Hoffmann et al. 2016, Revedin et al. 2020, Rios-Garaizar et al. 2018, López-Bultó et al. 2020a, 2020b. In this study, a digging stick was manufactured to test if this type of tool increased the efficiency during club-rush harvesting. ...
Club-rush (Bolboschoenus spp. (Asch.) Palla) is one of the most common edible wild plant taxa found at Epipaleolithic and Neolithic sites in southwest Asia. At the Early Natufian site of Shubayqa 1 (Black Desert, Jordan) thousands of club-rush rhizome-tuber remains and hundreds of fragments of prepared meals were found. The evidence indicated that the underground storage organs of this plant were recurrently used as a source of food 14,600 years ago. To determine how Early Natufian communities gathered, processed and transformed club-rush tubers into food, we designed an interdisciplinary study that combined experimental archaeology, archaeobotany, and ground and chipped stone tool analyses. We conducted more than 50 specific experiments over three years, and based on the experimental materials produced we inferred that 1) the best season for club-rush rhizome-tuber collection in the region was spring-summer time; 2) that the primary method to harvest the plant would have been uprooting; and 3) that the most efficient approaches to obtain perfectly peeled and clean rhizome-tubers could have entailed drying, roasting and gentle grinding of the tubers. Overall, our work provides important information to reconstruct the chaîne opératoire for club-rush tuber exploitation in the past. The experimental data and modern reference datasets allow us to interpret the archaeological material found at Shubayqa 1, and start identifying some of the activities that Natufian communities in the Black Desert undertook in relation to the exploitation of this particular source of food.
... There are various pieces of evidence that provide us with knowledge of the pyrotechnological capacities for the transformation of materials and which provide evidence of the use of fire applied to obtaining or modifying objects. The modification of wood to improve its hardness or to make it more workable has been documented in various sites such as Poggetti Vecchi (Aranguren et al., 2018) or Aranbaltza III (Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018). Another use of fire is related to the manufacture of organic hafting adhesives. ...
... There are various pieces of evidence that provide us with knowledge of the pyrotechnological capacities for the transformation of materials and which provide evidence of the use of fire applied to obtaining or modifying objects. The modification of wood to improve its hardness or to make it more workable has been documented in various sites such as Poggetti Vecchi (Aranguren et al., 2018) or Aranbaltza III (Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018). Another use of fire is related to the manufacture of organic hafting adhesives. ...
The ability to make and use fire can be considered as a behavioural threshold in human evolution. The aim of this chapter is to present an overview of the research on fire among Neanderthals. We compiled and reviewed the archaeological evidence and scientific studies on the topic, including different methodological approaches, theoretical considerations about the complexity of fire as an element of technology, and different interpretations regarding the Neanderthals’ ability to make fire. Approaching fire as an artefact through experimental research, ethnography, and archaeology at different scales of observation and using different methods has furnished a robust data set that allows us to objectively interpret Neanderthal behaviour around fire, such as in fuel gathering, fire lighting, use, and reuse. This research paves the way to identify cultural aspects of pyrotechnology and understand Neanderthal social behaviour around fire.
... Furthermore, micro-productions, traditionally related only to modern humans, have recently been identified as a relevant component of Neanderthal technology (see Mathias and Bourguignon, 2020;bibliography therein). Neanderthals also used wood (Aranguren et al., 2018;Carbonell and Castro-Curel, 1992;Rios-Garaizar et al., 2018), shells (Romagnoli, 2018;Romagnoli et al., 2016b), and animal bones and teeth to manufacture their tools (Blasco et al., 2013;Burke and d'Errico, 2008;Hutson et al., 2018;Majkić et al., 2017;Soressi et al., 2013). ...
This chapter aims is to briefly review the history of research on Neanderthals and to show how we have reached the current behavioural approach, including the complex scenario we have today. The main scientific debates that have marked Neanderthal studies since the discovery of skeletal remains at Feldhofer Cave in 1856 and the theoretical and methodological approaches that have progressively contributed to change and improve our image and understanding of this species are presented. Moreover, this chapter briefly introduces the main scientific issues and perspectives that have dominated the academic scene in the 21st century, which are further detailed in this book.
Neanderthals ate plants, they self-medicated using a range of medicinal plants, and they used complex material processing methods to construct composite objects with plant materials. While the evidence for the consumption of plants as food, medicine, and raw materials by Neanderthals is not abundant, by using a combination of direct and indirect methods, including recovery and analysis of macrobotanical and microfossil remains, biomolecular and genetic evidence and use wear patterns on teeth and tools, reconstruction of the basic premises of their plant use can be partially reconstructed. This provides nuanced insights into their cognitive and technological abilities and the deep ecological knowledge that was the foundation of their existence.
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La explotación de los recursos cárnicos obtenidos mediante la caza ha centrado la atención de los estudios sobre la subsistencia durante el Paleolítico, mientras que la recolección de vegetales ha sido considerada secundaria. Este desequilibrio no responde a una realidad, sino que se trata de una visión sesgada consecuencia de cuestiones tafonómicas, metodológicas e ideológicas. La península ibérica es un escenario excepcional donde reflexionar sobre la utilización de los recursos vegetales por parte de los grupos cazadores-recolectores prehistóricos por la larga tradición investigadora en el Paleolítico y el dinamismo de la disciplina arqueobotánica. En este artículo se revisa la información disponible acerca de la recolección de vegetales desde el Paleolítico Inferior hasta el Mesolítico derivada de los estudios carpológicos. Los datos, aunque escasos en algunos períodos, permiten concluir que el uso de los recursos vegetales con múltiples fines (alimentación, materia prima, medicina) está presente desde el Paleolítico Inferior, si bien se observa cierta diversificación taxonómica y de los modos de consumo en el Paleolítico Superior y el Mesolítico.
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The website serves as a platform for the scientific community to collect, display and share early traces of wood utilization. It also serves educational purposes, to teach a wide audience about how multifunctional and durable wood can be, when wisely used. The collection of objects is large and diverse, ranging from simple tools for hunting, like spears, to musical instruments of the high culture, such as violins. The first means of transport, dugout canoes or early infrastructure, like water wells, are remarkably old. Due to weathering, early buildings or constructions are poorly or only partially preserved. But some sacred buildings that are still in use today have an impressive age. At the time of writing this manuscript, a total of 211 prehistoric and historic wooden objects from around the globe were gathered and can be compared at the online application. The oldest item on the list is from 300 000 years before present. To continue expanding the database, the community is encouraged to contribute new entries.
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Significance Wood is a widely available and versatile material, which has admittedly played a fundamental role in all human history. Wood, however, is most vulnerable to decomposition. Hence, its use is very rarely documented during prehistory. The present study yields new insights into the cognitive abilities of the early Neanderthals in wooden tool production and pyrotechnology. The early Neanderthals from the late Middle Pleistocene site of Poggetti Vecchi (central Italy) were able to choose the appropriate timber and to process it with fire to produce tools. The artifacts recall the so-called “digging sticks,” multipurpose tools used by all hunter-gatherer societies.
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It has been argued that spear manufacture at Schöningen around 400 kya required abstract thought and in-depth planning of a kind associated only with fully modern humans. The argument, however, lacks detailed analysis of these cognitive capabilities. In this paper I shall provide such an analysis for the production of spears and show that no qualitatively modern cognitive advancement is required to realize this technology. Situated strategies grounded in re-enacting perceptual simulations are sufficient to obviate the need for any modern form of abstraction in explaining the evidence. This embodied perspective is further radicalized in favor of direct perception, enactivism, and intuitive artifact interaction in order to eliminate any explanatory role for mentalistic plans in both the invention and social transmission of the spear technology. A set of radical embodied cognitive abilities is also sufficient to account for other Acheulean tools, obviating any grounds for qualitative advances in cognition. The enactive integration of stone tools in the perceptual system of Homo heidelbergensis, coupled with an increase of information processing capacity, are quite sufficient quantitative augmentations to the capabilities of earlier hominids. The explanations advanced here are nonetheless consistent with a set of classic and innovative theories in cognitive archaeology.
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En este trabajo se aborda el problema de la Transición entre el Paleolítico Medio y el Superior en la región circundante al Golfo de Bizkaia. Se plantea para ello el estudio de distintas colecciones líticas: la del nivel VII (Musteriense) de Amalda, la del nivel IX (Chatelperroniense) de Labeko Koba o la de los niveles B, D y N de Axlor (Musterienses) y la del nivel C4III de Isturitz (Protoauriñaciense). El estudio se aborda desde una perspectiva integral, teniendo en cuenta diversos aspectos como la captación de la materia prima, los sistemas de fabricación o las actividades realizadas con el utillaje. De esta manera se ha obtenido una lectura de la organización económica y social de las poblaciones del Final de Paleolítico Medio y de Inicios del Superior. Los resultados obtenidos permiten constatar como ya en el Paleolítico Medio hay una gran variabilidad de sistemas de organización del aprovisionamiento de la industria, de las actividades de subsistencia y de la articulación del territorio, que nos habla de cambios históricos en las poblaciones de neandertales del final del Paleolítico Medio. A partir del Chateleperroniense y especialmente durante el Protoauriñaciense y el Auriñaciense Antiguo, coincidiendo grosso modo con la llegada de poblaciones de humanos modernos y la desaparición de las últimas poblaciones neandertales, se documentan cambios fundamentales en los sistemas de aprovisionamiento lítico, en la gestión del territorio y en la organización social, observándose creciente complejidad que se manifiesta en el control de la producción lítica, en la estandarización del utillaje de caza y en la multiplicación de las manifestaciones simbólicas (arte y ornamentos).
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A large number of sites dated to the Late Middle Paleolithic and the Early Upper Paleolithic have been recorded in the Cantabrian region (northern Iberia), making this area a key location to investigate the lifeways of the last Neanderthals and the first anatomically modern humans. The stratigraphic sequence from El Cuco rock-shelter was originally attributed to the Early Upper Paleolithic based on radiocarbon dates measured on bone apatite. However, new radiocarbon dates on shell carbonates from the lower levels produced inconsistent dates with those previously published. In order to clarify this anomaly, a reassessment of the chronology of levels VI to XIV was undertaken. The review was based on new radiocarbon dates performed on bones and shells, and a re-evaluation of the lithic assemblages. Bone samples did not produce radiocarbon dates due to a lack of collagen preservation but radiocarbon dating of shell carbonates provided dates ranging from 42.3 to 46.4 ka BP. These dates are significantly older than that previously obtained for level XIII using biogenic apatite from bones (∼30 ka uncal BP), suggesting that the bone apatite used for radiocarbon dating was rejuvenated due to contamination with secondary carbonate. Lithic assemblages, defined in the first place as Evolved Aurignacian, have now been confidently attributed to the Mousterian techno-complex. These results suggest a Middle Paleolithic chronology for this part of the sequence. The new chronology proposed for El Cuco rock-shelter has significant implications for the interpretation of Neanderthal subsistence strategies and settlement patterns, especially for coastal settlement and use of marine resources, not only in northern Iberia, but also in Atlantic Europe.
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SUMMARY: We present four bone artifacts from the Middle Paleolithic levels of Axlor Cave. The bone tools show traces of use, probably related to repetitive movements. Those actions produced visible polishment and the erosion of the active zones (which as been key in order to identify the artifacts). We have called the bone tools "smoothers", as a functional hypothesis. The precise nature of the artifacts wont be inferred, until we advance in the development of an experimental program, especifically designed for that kind of tools. In order to place the artifacts in the right context, a brief sintesis of Axlor's excavation project appears is provided.
Work on thermal pools at Poggetti Vecchi in Grosseto, Italy, exposed an up to 3-meter-thick succession of seven sedimentary units. Unit 2 in the lower portion of the succession contained vertebrate bones, mostly of the straight-tusked elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus , commingled with stone, bone, and wooden tools. Thermal carbonates overlying Unit 2 are radiometrically dated to the latter part of the middle Pleistocene. This time span indicates that early Neanderthals produced the human artifacts from Poggetti Vecchi. The elephant bones belong to seven individuals of different ages. Sedimentary facies analysis and paleoecological evidence suggest a narrow lacustrine-palustrine embayment affected by water-level fluctuations and, at times, by hydrothermal water. Cyclic lake-level variations were predominantly forced by the rapid climatic fluctuations that occurred at Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 6–7 transition and throughout the MIS 6. Possibly an abrupt, intense, and protracted cold episode during the onset of MIS 6 led to the sudden death of the elephants, which formed an unexpected food resource for the humans of the area. The Poggetti Vecchi site adds new information on the behavioral plasticity and food procurement strategies that early Neanderthals were able to develop in Italy during the middle to the late Pleistocene transition.
La Draga (5320-4800 cal BC) is an Early Neolithic waterlogged site situated at the shore of the Estany de Banyoles (Banyoles Lake). The exceptional preservation conditions allows the conservation of the organic matter, wood also, one of the raw materials most used during prehistory. The production process diagram has been the base for the classification of the woody materials: unworked wood (extraction process), technological debris (extraction and transformation processes), architectonic elements and tools (extraction, transformation and use processes). In order to study those processes different analytics have been implemented: dendrologic, morphometric, experimental, use and technological wear and spatial analysis. For the use and technological wear analysis it have been developed a methodology based on the creation of 3D models obtained with a scanner. This has allowed a detailed characterization of the technological and use wear. This work demonstrates that wood is a material that solves large variety of needs related to the preparation of habitat and working areas, as well as related to the various productive activities that require totally or partially wood elaborated tools. The great diversity of actions involved with the economic activities that have been documented, explain the diversity of tools recovered, demonstrating the versatility of the woody raw material. Livestock, hunting, agriculture, processing of fibers for manufacturing textiles, basketry and rope or wood technology require specialized tools. Its production tries to get the appropriate forms and dimensions, and use raw materials with certain properties. So while the arch requires flexible wood, the pointed stick needs hard and tough wood. Both cases illustrate well the relation between raw material and functionality. Regarding the volume of wood used, constructive activity is the one that required in more quantity. The resulting deforestation was notorious, evidenced by the fall of contemporary oak pollen in the settlement of la Draga. The volume of wood required for making utensils was much smaller and less impactful on the environment, but requires precise selection of raw material because it is the category where a greater variety of taxa, sizes and shapes are found. This work showed how wood was an essential element for the development of the site of la Draga. It is a raw material that affects the everyday basics, both social and economic, being essential for survival. It requires a continuous extraction and involves a very thorough knowledge and mastery of the surrounding woods, the development of social group for its production, processing and consumption, and complex knowledge work for development; practices that affect all aspects of everyday life for the development of the site of la Draga. La Draga is a unique and singular site in the Neolithic of the Iberian Peninsula, but the data can be regarded as significant related to the first farming communities in the NE of the Iberian Peninsula. They had the knowledge and technologies needed to exploit forest resources intensively and according to their needs. La Draga supply documentary evidence related with morphological diversity of wooden products and uses they are given. It also provides unique data about manufacturing processes of wood that until now were only known partially from the lithic tools. It has been possible to make visible processes and products where there is only wood involved