The world’s oldest stone tool used for “delicate” abrading work was found close to Haifa, Israel, and dates back approximately 350,000 years. This is pretty significant as it dates back about 150,000 years earlier than when those types of tools were previously thought to have existed.
According to the University of Haifa research team, the dolomite cobble, which was discovered in the Tabun Cave at Mount Carmel, was believed to have been used to wear down materials (most probably soft materials), although the exact purpose is still unknown.
Researchers Ron Shimelmitz, Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Mina Weinstein-Evron, and Danny Rosenberg, of the university’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology, explained this further, “While the tool is seemingly ‘simple,’ its early appearance and the fact that it has no parallel in such an early stage of human evolution give it world importance,” adding that the small rounded stone was “at such an early stage a very significant technology was added to [the hominids’] ‘toolbox’.”
This isn’t the oldest tool ever discovered, as previous discoveries have dated as far back as 1.5 million years; however, those were used to pound or beat materials. The cobble found in the Tabun Cave is the oldest known tool that was used for abrading materials. Another significant difference is that the cobble was used in a horizontal motion while the older pounding tools were used in vertical motions.
The researchers explained this further, “The small cobble is of immense importance because it allows us to trace the earliest origins of the abrasion action and how cognitive and motor abilities that developed during human evolution eventually evolved into important phenomena in human culture to this day, primarily involving abrasion and development of food production techniques, stationary settlement, agriculture, storage and later an increase in social and economic complexity.”
The tool was originally discovered in the 1960s but researchers have recently analyzed it in more detail as part of a project where experts study objects that have been previously found at the Mount Carmel sites. In fact, the cave in which the cobble was found has been used by hominids for the last 500,000 years so the site is of extreme importance.
The researchers saw that the stones contained marks which were consistent with abrading work. At that point, they performed several tests on additional dolomite cobbles that were discovered in the same area. They rubbed the cobbles against different materials in order to find out which ones made those same marks and they found that it was probably used on animal hides. (Pictures can be seen here.)
Their research was published in the Journal of Human Evolution where it can be read in full.