1.2 million-year-old obsidian handaxe workshop discovered in Ethiopia

1.2 million-year-old obsidian handaxe workshop discovered in Ethiopia

The extensive accumulations of obsidian artifacts in level C. a,b, General view of the level and detail of artifact density along the MS cliff (a) and inset (b). c,d, General view (c) and detail (d) of the concentration of artefacts (mainly bifaces) in the 2004 survey. Credit: Nature ecology and evolution (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-022-01970-1

A team of researchers affiliated with several Spanish institutions, working with two French colleagues and another German, discovered a workshop for making obsidian bifaces dating back to 1.2 million years ago in the Awash Valley in Ethiopia. In their article published in the journal Nature ecology and evolutionthe group describes where the bifaces were found, their condition and their age.

The Stone Age lasted from around 2.6 million years ago until around 3,300 BCE when the Bronze Age began. Historians generally break down the era into Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods. Previous research has shown that “knapping workshops” appeared during the Middle Pleistocene, in Europe, around 774,000 to 129,000 years ago.

These workshops grew as tool making became a skill. People who developed such skills worked together in workshops to create enough tools, whatever they were, needed by those in the general domain. One of these tools was the hand axe, which could be used for chopping or as a weapon.

Bifaces were made by chipping pieces of a stone into a sharp edge. They were not attached to anything; they were simply held in the hand when in use. The stones used were usually flint or, later, obsidian, a type of volcanic glass. Obsidian, even in modern times, is considered a difficult material to work with because it is very rough on the hands. In this new effort, researchers have found evidence of an obsidian hash workshop established much earlier than we have ever seen before.

Researchers were working at the Melka Kunture excavation site when they found a biface buried in a layer of sediment. They soon found others. They found 578 in all, and all but three were made of obsidian. Dating of material around the axes have been shown to be around 1.2 million years old.

Examination of the axes showed that they were all made in the same way, indicating that the researchers had found an ancient hewing workshop. The find marks the oldest known example of such a workshop, and the first of its kind not to be in Europe. The researchers note that the work was done so long ago that they are not even able to identify the hominids who made them.

More information:
Margherita Mussi et al, An increase in obsidian mining over 1.2 million years ago at Simbiro III (Melka Kunture, Upper Awash, Ethiopia), Nature ecology and evolution (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-022-01970-1

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Quote: Obsidian hand-axe workshop dating back to 1.2 million years ago discovered in Ethiopia (January 26, 2023) Retrieved on January 27, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-01 -obsidian-handaxe-making-workshop-million-years.html

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