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Thread: Artifacts that do not fossilise

  1. #1 Artifacts that do not fossilise 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Nov 2008
    New Zealand
    We rely for our knowledge of early pre-humans, on things that are durable. Bones. Stone tools. A bed of ash etc.

    But the development of technology would have required the development of the use of items that are fully biodegradable. These things will not be preserved. Can we find some way of 'guessing' when they entered the realm of human or pre-human use?

    The best example, I think, is string. This is very easy to make, and enormously useful. It must have entered into pre-human technology quite early on. Simply dry certain grasses, and roll the fibres into string. It can be plaited into stronger rope. It must have tremendously changed the way of life of those pre-humans. Imaging tying a stone axe head to a wooden handle, or a flint spear head to a wooden shaft. It would have enabled carrying bags, which meant that food and the best tools could be carried.

    What of weaving? A simple technique which enables grass fibre bags, and even clothing.

    Do we have any idea when these technologies entered pre-human culture? If so, how do we know? Homo habilis made crudely chipped stone tools as far back as 2.5 million years ago. When did they use string?

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  3. #2  
    Time Lord
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    Apr 2008
    Yeah, it's a good question.

    String, that depends on where you are, so "certain grasses" may not be appropriate. In the Arctic you'll more likely use human hair or animal sinew. Where I am, we used fresh cedar fibres.

    It's been suggested that carefully knapped stone tools aren't worth the effort in areas where bamboo grows. With bamboo you can quickly fashion all manner of fishhook, arrowhead, blade, whirligig, whatever. You can make a very specific tool in the field, at a moment's notice. This sidestepping of a stone age is demonstrated by some of our last tribes who've kept their crafts alive.

    I reckon the first step in investigation would be to identify the super-plants, like bamboo, that primitive cultures "do everything" with. Then you can say where were these plants when, did we get our hands on them?


    Kinda topical. I asked my (then) 11-year-old son how he *personally* would kill a mammoth. He reasoned that since a mammoth needs the tip of its trunk to eat, all you have to do is injure it there. Then it'll go hungry and collapse, and you've still got way too much hamburger. He decided that a trap, baited with green grass, could stab the mammoth's trunk tip. We then devised a trap that is essentially a proto-basket, like if you only knew the first two steps of basketry. I think it would grievously wound a mammoth's trunk (if not immobilize the animal in pain). I can't properly test it on elephants because I'd be arrested.

    So there you have a no-fossil, no-combat means of decimating mammoths, do-able by 11-year-old boys and their grandmothers. Maybe.

    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  4. #3  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope sculptor's Avatar
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    Apr 2012
    To the best of my knowledge, no other material can match stone for sharpness. Well knapped stone(flint, chert, obsidian, etc..) can have an edge that is 1 micron thick(much sharper than steel). So for certain tasks, it could not be equaled nor beaten.
    Judging by the amount of material found, I would hazard the guess that our ancestors were just about as absent minded as are we. ("now, where in hell did I put/leave/drop that x..y..or ..z???). That may not be the oldest question, but I'd bet that it came early on.

    That being said:
    I have carved/shaped darned near everything I could get my hands on---food, wood, clay, plastic, etc...and stone.
    My least favorite material to try and shape to my imagination is, was, and most likely always will be stone.
    Maybe, it just ain't one of my talents.
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  5. #4  
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Paleoanthropology, nay any fossil science, cannot be exact. It's possible animal skins were used, but then we cannot say for sure.
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