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Thread: Smashing shellfish to stone industry

  1. #1 Smashing shellfish to stone industry 
    Time Lord
    Join Date
    Apr 2008

    Go ahead and skim.

    At Gona, Ethiopia, 2.5 Ma-old stone tools were deposited in ³floodplain
    environments, close to margins of channels that carried the volcanic cobbles
    used as raw materials for tool manufacture² (Semaw et al. 1997: 333).
    Nearby, in the Hata Member of the Bouri Formation, hominid fossils of a
    similar age to the Gona deposits were discovered in sediments containing
    sandstone with bivalve and gastropod shells ³deposited by fluvial processes
    associated with floodplains along distributary channels close to a shallow
    fluctuating lake
    ² (de Heinzelin et al. 1999: 625). This Member also reveals
    evidence of cut and percussion marks on bones of medium and large-sized
    bovids, though stone tools have so far not been discovered.

    The Homo maxilla AL 666, dated to 2.3 Ma, along with a stone tool assemblage
    (though no signs of butchering), was recovered from deposits of the Hadar
    Formation, suggesting a landscape which was ³predominantly open, with
    wetlands and bushed or wooded grasslands, and with stands of trees close to
    the water source² (Kimbel et al. 1996: 559).

    At Olduvai Gorge Plio-Pleistocene Homo remains are associated with deposits
    containing ³cemented aggregates of the small benthic, freshwater clam
    Corbicula² as well as crocodiles, hippos and fish (Blumenschine et al. 2003:
    1220). Cut and percussion marks are found on a percentage (4.2 and 8.3%
    respectively) of the long bones of larger mammals. Fish and gastropods,
    judging by the remains of ?living sites¹, might have been consumed at
    Olduvai Gorge, while the avian fauna included abundant waders (flamingoes,
    herons, storks, rails, jacanas, plovers, sandpipers and stilts), swimmers
    and divers (grebes, cormorants, pelicans and ducks) as well as marine birds
    (gulls, terns and skimmers) (Leakey 1979).

    The earliest occurrence of the genus Homo in the Turkana Basin is associated
    with flood-plain deposits in which gastropods, fish, crocodiles, bovids,
    equids, suids, cercopithecids and hippopotamids
    occur (Pratt et al. 2005).
    During Plio-Pleistocene times the Turkana Basin contained a large lake
    fringed by swampy wetlands as indicated by the numerous fossils of hippos,
    crocodiles, fish
    (including a stingray, suggesting a marine connection at
    the time), gastropods, bivalves, sponges and numerous ostracods. Lung fish,
    water bucks, cane rats, monkeys, giraffes, buffaloes, camels, rhinoceroses
    and elephants suggest a rich mosaic of wet, dry, open and closed habitats in
    the vicinity of an extensive lake, or large river
    (Feibel et al. 1991).

    The most complete skeleton of an early Homo specimen, KNM-WT 15000, the
    so-called ?Turkana Boy¹ of Nariokotome, Kenya, was discovered on the western
    side of the Turkana Basin. It lay among reeds and hippopotamid footprints,
    and the most abundant faunal remains associated with it were water snails,
    fish and turtles
    (see Table 6).

    The Plio-Pleistocene Shungara Formation in the Omo Basin contains an
    archaeological assemblage as well as molluscs (including freshwater oyster
    Etheria reefs), fish, crocodiles, hippopotamids, bovids, cercopithecids,
    turtles, suids and other vertebrates. The archaeological occurrences ³are
    all in proximal river settings² (Clark Howell et al. 1987: 696).

    In the Western Rift Valley, the Senga 5A site (2*2.3 Ma) contains artefacts
    associated with gastropods, bivalves, fish, hippopotamids, suids and bovids
    in a ³low-energy littoral lacustrine setting² (Harris et al. 1987: 724).

    The Plio-Pleistocene Chiwondo Beds of Malawi have yielded Homo fossils as
    well as fragmented remains of fish, turtles, crocodiles and large mammals.
    They also contain molluscs ³in consolidated beds of carbonate cemented
    sandstone. Molluscan shell beds crop out as benches up to several meters
    thick and several hundred meters wide
    ² (Schrenk et al. 1995: 59).

    The late Pliocene Chemeron hominid (KNM-BC 1) was deposited in a lake filled
    where fish remains were abundant: ³Molluscs also lived in the lake,
    and locally their remains accumulated to form shelly limestones. ? There is
    little doubt that the fossil came from the Upper Fish Beds² (Martyn and
    Tobias 1967).

    The Dmanisi Homo fossil site, dated to 1.8 Ma, is located at the confluence
    of two rivers, where at the time a lake or pond had formed due to the
    blocking of a river by a lava stream. ³The hominid site itself was likely
    located near a lake or pond, rich in lacustrine resources. This biome,
    together with the adjacent forest-steppe formations, created a highly
    productive ecotone rich in animal and plant resources² (David Lordkipanidze,
    personal communication to MV). The inhabitants might have eaten hackberrys,
    since abundant seeds have been found at this site (Gabunia et al. 2000).

    Early Pleistocene archaeological sites from the Jordan Valley include
    Erk-el-Ahmar and ¹Ubeidiya. These sites are associated with lacustrine and
    fluvial deposits rich in fresh water gastropod and bivalve remains
    as well
    as fish, turtles, hippos and birds (Bar-Yosef and Tchernov 1972).

    Aïn Hanech, an archaeological site in Algeria dated to about 1.8 Ma, was
    formed on an alluvial floodplain cut by a meandering river (an oxbow lake),
    and may indicate repeated activities by hominids at a shallow river
    embankment (Sahnouni et al. 2002).

    At Pabbi Hills, Pakistan, artefacts of Pliocene age, about 2 Ma, have been
    discovered in deposits which also contain crocodiles, turtles, aquatic
    gastropods and bivalves. The molluscs suggest a large, slow-moving river
    with clean, shallow water less than five meters deep
    , analogous to
    unpolluted sections of the Ganges River (Dennell 2004).

    The site of Mojokerto (Perning), on the Island of Java has been dated to
    between 1.5 and 1.8 Ma. This coastal deltaic environment (Huffman 2006)
    contained fresh water and marine molluscs, which would have been easily
    procured and consumed by early hominid inhabitants (Frank Wesselingh,
    personal communication to SM).

    At Sangiran, also on Java, where H. erectus was found, ³a thin layer of
    diatoms (uni-cellular marine phytoplankton) and dark clays with a marine
    was deposited by the sea, as was noticed and described before by
    Professor Martin from Leiden² (von Koenigs-wald 1981). Hominids on Java were
    using mollusc shells to butcher mammals, presumably to
    gain access to nutritious meats, as early as 1.5 Ma (Choi and Driwantoro

    The archaeological site of Majuangou (Nihewan), in China, recently dated to
    1.66 Ma, reveals that hominids inhabited a lake filled basin, where the
    remains of aquatic molluscs, and the leaves and fruits of aquatic plants
    have been discovered, indicating a low energy lake-shore or marsh
    environment (Zhu et al. 2004).

    In the Middle Awash of Ethiopia, the Daka Member of the Bouri Formation,
    dated to 1 Ma, contains artefacts, Homo erectus cranial and post cranial
    bones, abundant hippo fossils, as well as gastropods and bivalves associated
    with alluvial, lakeside beaches or shallow water deposits in distributary
    channels (Asfaw et al. 2002).

    Buia, in Ethiopia, contains Homo erectus fossils and artefacts dated to 1
    Ma. These occur in deltaic deposits of the Alat Formation, which also
    contains fish and freshwater gastropod (Melanoides) remains (Abbate et al.
    2004). Evidence that hominids butchered medium to large-sized bovids,
    hippos, and a crocodile, also come from these deposits (Fiore et al. 2004).

    A partial Homo cranium from the same stratigraphic level as Acheulian
    artefacts from Olorgesailie, Kenya, has been dated to between 0.97 and 0.9
    Ma. The sandy silt adhered to the frontal bone of this specimen contained
    amphibian bones and the tooth of the swamp rat Otomys sp., which today
    inhabits thick grasses in and around the swamps, lakes and rivers of East
    (Potts et al. 2004).

    The Angolan site of Dungo V reveals evidence for the exploitation of a large
    whale (Balaenoptera sp.) on a former beach more than 0.35 Ma. Closely
    associated with the whale skeleton were numerous Lower Palaeolithic
    artefacts, together with numerous molluscs, other marine invertebrates and
    shark teeth (Gutierrez et al. 2001).

    The earliest evidence for human activity in northern Europe comes from the
    site of Pakefield, England, about 0.7 Ma, where artefacts from estuarine
    containing marine fauna have been discovered. The majority of
    artefacts derive from ?Unio bed¹ coastal river deposits (Parfitt et al.

    The earliest evidence for H. sapiens in the fossil record comes from the
    Ethiopian Kibish Formation in deposits dated to 195 ka. This formation
    consists of ³flat-lying, tectonically undisturbed, unconsolidated sediments
    deposited mainly in deltaic environments over brief periods² (McDougal et
    al. 2005: 733). Human remains derive from essentially the same
    archeological level that remains of the fresh water oyster Etheria have been

    Also in Ethiopia, H. sapiens and stone artefacts occur in the Herto Member
    of the Bouri Formation at 160 ka. This member contains gastropods, bivalves
    and (often butchered) hippopotamus bones
    , testifying to a waterside setting
    (Clark et al. 2003).

    In Eritrea, the 125-ka-old Abdur Archaeological Site, on exposed Red Sea
    reefs, indicates that humans were using tools to ³harvest shallow marine
    food resources
    and possibly to butcher large land mammals on the ancient
    shoreline² (Bruggemann et al. 2004: 180).

    On the Mediterranean coast of Africa, the Haua Fteah site reveals evidence
    that H. sapiens were harvesting and consuming shellfish 80*100 ka (McBurney
    1967), while at the coastal sites of Gibraltar (Barton et al. 1999) and
    Liguria (Stiner 1994) there is evidence that H. neanderthalensis was
    collecting and consuming shellfish.

    Along the African Cape coasts there are many Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites
    with abundant shellfish and other marine food remains. The total number of
    sites may be in the hundreds. These sites are associated with some of the
    earliest modern human remains (see review in Broadhurst et al. 2002). The
    best known is Klasies River Mouth, where 20 meter deep shell middens occur,
    mostly dating to Oxygen Isotope Stage 5 (Grun et al. 1990, Deacon 1992).
    These deposits show ³evidence for the exploitation of marine resources²
    (Thackeray 1988: 27).

    The shell middens associated with Blombos Cave, dated
    to 80*100 ka, indicate that marine molluscs were the ³most abundant category
    of food waste
    ² (Henshilwood et al. 2001: 441) and at Die Kelders the cave
    deposits contain ³bones of seals, dolphins and marine birds² (Grine et al.
    1991: 375).

    On the Atlantic coast, the sites of Sea Harvest, Hoedjies Punt and
    Ysterfontein reveal evidence that the inhabitants were harvesting marine
    limpets and mussels (Volman 1978, Klein et al. 2004). Many more west coast
    MSA shell middens are known, but are as yet unexcavated.

    And here I was expecting some obscure evidence. Not a screaming correlation.

    Anecdotal: I live on a coast and I'm an avid beachcomber. I sometimes smash mussels (my favourite) and clams open with my fist. But preferably I use a rock. Also for limpets and oysters a rock works. You have to really work at oysters, with a nicely selected rock, and chip away at them. But for such fresh oyster it's worth the effort. This kind of food is basically unexploited, because animals lack the grasp to pry it up or the means to break it open. The result of course is shards of shell, that one must pick from the meat. One learns quickly that one piece of shell may be used to cut meat away from another. It's a knife. Sometimes I use these knives to pry under a limpet, saw off a goose-barnacle, or stop a bivalve from shutting up completely.

    I've never deliberately broken one rock with another rock to form a shape. I'm not that industrious. I just use rocks and shells as tools, as I find them in my hand.

    Reasonable to assume human stone technology inspired directly from shellfish harvest and processing?

    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  3. #2  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Not many shellfish at Olduvai.

    Edit: maybe there were. I skimmed too fast.

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  4. #3  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope Paleoichneum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Washington State, USA
    To be honest what I see from reading through your list is correlation to the fact that things fossilize much better in an alluvial or lacustrian environment. Is there any evidence at all of homonid interaction with the mollusks at these sites? The simple explaination is that the homonids which died in a water environment were the ones that were preserved more.
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  5. #4  
    Time Lord
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Does my hypothesis seem plausible? Is there a better explanation? Besides the alien monolith.

    This is pretty easy to test by giving (jungle) chimpanzees various hard shell mussels and oysters.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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