Honey-colored translucent arrowhead, 4500 to 2000 BC

Anthropologists believe that Old World people developed more quickly and became more technologically advanced than people in the New World because they domesticated animals earlier which in turn made it easier for them to get around easier and perform labor that required beasts of burden. As agriculture developed animals were used to pull plows

Saws, hammers, nails, chisels, drills and squares all date back to the Bronze and early Iron Ages. Many modern tools have their origins in the Neolithic period. As early as 6,000 years ago people were causing lead pollution, mostly by farming. Researchers who examined layers of peat in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland undisturbed for 14,000 years found evidence of lead pollution.

The invention of the wheel paved the way for more advanced technology such as pulleys, gears, cogs and screws. A flint point or stick spun with a bow was another important advancement. It could be used to make fire and employed as a drill (See Ancient Dentistry).

The world's first calendar may be an eagle bone with rows of 14 or 15 notches made 30,000 years ago and found at Le Placard on the Dordogne River near Le Eyzies, France. The bone contains 69 mysterious marks and notches, including circles, crescents, arc and ear-shapes, that appear to be in synch with the phases of the moon. Fourteen and 15 days are roughly the interval between a new moon and a full moon. Some have suggested it may have helped women keep track of the menstrual cycle. Others say it may have been tabulating device Skeptic say it may just be a bone with a lot of scratches on it. Another contender for title of world’s oldest calendar was is a 10,000-years -old carved pebble with 12 notches unearthed in Iraq.

Zach Zorich wrote in Archaeology: “Using a technique for analyzing friction in industrial equipment, a group of French and Turkish scientists have unraveled the process that was used approximately 10,000 years ago to make a highly polished obsidian bracelet. The team examined a bracelet fragment from Asikli Höyük in Turkey at different levels of magnification and saw evidence of three stages of production—pecking, grinding, and polishing. Striations on the bracelet indicate that a mechanical device may have been used to achieve its regularized shape and glossy finish. It is the earliest evidence of such a sophisticated stone-working technique. [Source: Zach Zorich, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 3, May/June 2012]

Stone Age Tools, See Hominids and Early Man and Otzi the Iceman

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans ; Prehistoric Art ; Evolution of Modern Humans ; Iceman Photscan ; Otzi Official Site Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History ;

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Ways to Start a Fire

It is believed once ancient man got a fire going he did his best to keep it going and preserve the hot coals and embers. When a given fire had outlived its usefulness an effort was made to keep the coals hot so they could be used to easily start a new fire when needed. The 5,300-year-old Iceman (Otzi) carried embers wrapped in maple leaves placed in a birch bark container, which shows that Neolithic people carried fire from place to place rather that started news fires from scratch. In the early history of man it is not known exactly what tools were used when to start fires in part because the materials in which they were made — sticks, twine and other plant materials — rotted.

The hand drill is perhaps the most primitive form of known firemaking, characterized by the use of a thin, often straightened wooden shaft or reed to be spun with the hands, grinding within a notch against the soft wooden base of a fire board (a wooden platform on top of which tinder is usually — though not always — put, the tinder being the area receiving friction created by the spinning of the drill). This repetitive spinning causes black dust to form near the hole of the soft wood (and, if used, the tinder), eventually creating a hot, glowing charcoal. Tinder may be added or replaced, and by blowing on the coal and tinder, a flame is produced. It can take a great degree of effort and experience to discover a successful combination of materials. [Source: Wikipedia]

The bow drill uses the same principle as the hand drill, but the spindle is driven by a bow, which allows longer strokes. With a well-built drill, fire can be rapidly created even in wet conditions. A fire pump or pump drill is variant on the bow drill that uses a coiled rope around a cross-section of wooden stakes to produce friction on a hard surface, combusting material underneath the mechanism. [Ibid]

Another simple fire making tool using friction is a fire plow. It consists of a stick cut to a dull point, and a long piece of wood with a groove cut down its length. The point of the first piece is rubbed against the groove of the second piece in a "plowing" motion, rapidly, to produce hot dust that then becomes a coal. A split is often made down the length of the grooved piece, so that oxygen can flow freely to the coal/ember. Once hot enough, the coal is introduced to the tinder, more oxygen is added by blowing and the result is ignition. [Ibid]

A fire saw is a method by which a piece of wood is sawed through a notch in a second piece or pieces to generate friction. The tinder may be placed between two slats of wood with the third piece or "saw" drawn over them above the tinder so as to catch a coal, but there is more than one configuration. [Ibid]

To produce sparks, one may strike a hard stone, for example flint or quartz, on another containing iron such as pyrite or marcasite. Sparks with this method must be immediately in contact with tinder, or with black charcoal cloth or steel wool that will smolder from the spark. The material used to hold the spark is held above the flint or quartz, tight against the stone. The striker is then brought against the stone in a quick, straight downward motion. The stone pulls steel flakes off the striker, which become hot, molten sparks. The use of flint in particular became the most common method of producing flames in pre-industrial societies. Travelers up to the late 19th century would often use tinderboxes in order to start fires with a much greater ease than that of a bow drill or hand drill. [Ibid]

Archaeologists Claim Objects Are Earliest 'Matches'

In 2012, researchers from Israel said that mysterious clay and stone artefacts dated to be 8,000 year old could be the earliest known "matches". Nick Crumpton of the BBC wrote: “Although the cylindrical objects have been known about for some time, they had previously been interpreted as "cultic" phallic symbols. The researchers' new interpretation means these could be the earliest evidence of how fires were ignited. The research was published in the open access journal Plos. The journal reports that the artefacts are almost 8,000 years old. One. [Source: Nick Crumpton BBC News, August 8, 2012 |::|]

fire making tools

“Although evidence of "pyrotechnology" in Eurasia is known from three quarters of a million years ago, this evidence usually takes the form of remnants of fire itself. "We have fire evidence in modern humans and Neanderthals, from charcoal, ashes and hearths, but there was nothing ever found that was connected with how you ignite the fire," lead author Prof Naama Goren-Inbar of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem told BBC News.

“But on a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Professor Goren-Inbar recognised the shape of structures discovered at the Sha'ar HaGolan archaeological site as that found in tools used for purposes other than simply cultural ones. "I saw this object and immediately it came to my mind that this was very, very similar to all the sticks that you see [used as] 'fire drills'. I made the connection and it slowly developed," she said.

“By using electro-microscopy techniques, Prof Goren-Inbar and her colleagues identified tell-tale signs that the cylindrical clay objects may have been rotated at high speed, generating friction to ignite tinder. They identified linear marks, or striations - at the conical ends of the cylinders which they interpret as being generated by spinning the "matches" within sockets found on "fire boards", which are known from other sites. Burn-colouration reminiscent of scorch-marks was also found, as well as grooves evident higher up the objects, which may have been generated by a bow, used to spin the cylinders. “This evidence, the researchers write, is supported by known cultural evidence from the Neolithic as well as knowledge of traditional fire ignition techniques. This new interpretation highlights the technological sophistication of the Sha'ar HaGolan inhabitants at this time, and the prevalence of these structures around a wide area of the Eastern Mediterranean may further indicate that clay matches were common at an earlier time period than other ignition technologies.”

First Wheels and Wheeled Vehicles

The wheel, some scholars have theorized, was first used to make pottery and then was adapted for wagons and chariots. The potter’s wheel was invented in Mesopotamia in 4000 B.C. Some scholars have speculated that the wheel on carts were developed by placing a potters wheel on its side. Other say: first there were sleds, then rollers and finally wheels. Logs and other rollers were widely used in the ancient world to move heavy objects. It is believed that 6000-year-old megaliths that weighed many tons were moved by placing them on smooth logs and pulling them by teams of laborers.

Early wheeled vehicles were wagons and sleds with a wheel attached to each side. The wheel was most likely invented before around 3000 B.C. — the approximate age of the oldest wheel specimens — as most early wheels were probably shaped from wood, which rots, and there isn't any evidence of them today. The evidence we do have consists of impressions left behind in ancient tombs, images on pottery and ancient models of wheeled carts fashioned from pottery.◂

Ur wheel
Evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the mid 4th millennium B.C., near-simultaneously in Mesopotamia, the Northern Caucasus and Central Europe. The question of who invented the first wheeled vehicles is far from resolved. The earliest well-dated depiction of a wheeled vehicle — a wagon with four wheels and two axles — is on the Bronocice pot, clay pot dated to between 3500 and 3350 B.C. excavated in a Funnelbeaker culture settlement in southern Poland. Some sources say the oldest images of the wheel originate from the Mesopotamian city of Ur A bas-relief from the Sumerian city of Ur — dated to 2500 B.C. — shows four onagers (donkeylike animals) pulling a cart for a king. and were supposed to date sometime from 4000 BC. [Partly from Wikipedia]

In 2003 — at a site in the Ljubljana marshes, Slovenia, 20 kilometers southeast of Ljubljana — Slovenian scientists claimed they found the world’s oldest wheel and axle. Dated with radiocarbon method by experts in Vienna to be between 5,100 and 5,350 years old the found in the remains of a pile-dwelling settlement, the wheel has a radius of 70 centimeters and is five centimeters thick. It is made of ash and oak. Surprisingly technologically advanced, it was made of two ashen panels of the same tree. The axle, whose age could not be precisely established, is about as old as the wheel. It is 120 centimeters long and made of oak. [Source: Slovenia News]

The wheel and axle were found near a wooden canoe. Both the wheel and the axle had been scorched, probably to protect them against pests. Slovenian experts surmise that the wheel they found belonged to a single-axle cart. The aperture for the axle on the wheel is square, which means the wheel and the axle rotated together and, considering the rough ground, the cart probably had only one axle. We can only guess what the cart itself was like. The Ljubljana marshes are a perfect place for old objects to be preserved. There have been many finds uncovered in this area. Apart from the wooden wheel, axle and canoe, there have been innumerable objects found which are up to 6,500 years old.

A wheel dated to 3000 B.C., was found near Lake Van in eastern Turkey. Wheels with simialr dates have been found in germany and Switzerland. One very old wheel was a wooden disc discovered at an archeological sight near Zurich. The wheel now can be seen in the Zurich museum.

Ancient Inventions

Book: "Ancient Inventions” by Peter James and Nick Thorpe (Ballantine Books, 1995) is a compendium of curiosities dating from the Stone Age to 1,000 A.D., the book argues that just because our ancestors lived long ago and had less technology at their disposal does not mean they were any less intelligent than we are. [Source: Laura Colby, New York Times, May 16, 1995]

In fact, many of the inventions that we believe belong to our own modern era already existed hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years ago. Our ancestors were not quaint superstitious people mystified by the problems of everyday life; they were, much as we are today, hard at work on ingenious solutions. The authors have broken down the inventions into different categories such as medicine; food, drink and drugs; transportation and communications; and military technology, making the book easy to thumb through in the coffee-table style, rather than one to be read from start to finish.

Ur Chariot from around 3000 B.C.
We learn that our ancestors used birth control — everything from a condom to a rudimentary form of the pill — abused drugs ranging from hallucinogenic mushrooms to cocaine, and were entertained by sport, music and theater. We see homes many thousands of years old with plumbing, indoor ovens, and many other conveniences we associate with our own era.

But by far the most interesting parts of the book are those that provide examples of technology, rather than everyday objects. Inhabitants of present-day Iraq, for instance, had developed a form of electric battery about 2,000 years ago, using a clay jar that contained a copper rod sealed with asphalt. The so-called Baghdad Battery, discovered in 1936, was probably used by jewelers to electroplate bronze jewelry. Medicine, including brain surgery, the making of artificial limbs and plastic surgery, is one of the most hair-raising chapters. Early military technology, including a "machine gun" in the form of a crossbow that could fire 20 arrows in less than 15 seconds, is also covered.

The book's black-and-white photos and drawings are helpful in explaining how some of these ancient inventions worked. Many of them are taken from ancient sources, such as the sketch of a child in a high chair (or is it on a potty — the authors ask) from a Greek vase, or papyrus paintings of an Egyptian suffering from the effects of a hangover. It is a pity that there are not more of these, because they help bring the inventions to life.

Great Achievements by Ancient Africans

On the great achievements that came out of Africa, Sydella Blatch wrote in the website for American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: “There are just a handful of scholars in this area. The most prolific is the late Ivan Van Sertima, an associate professor at Rutgers University. He once poignantly wrote that “the nerve of the world has been deadened for centuries to the vibrations of African genius” (1).[1 Van Sertima, I. “The Lost Sciences of Africa: An Overview.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. 7 – 26 (1983)] [Source: Sydella Blatch, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology]

Math: The oldest example of arithmetic (6000 B.C.) was found in the Congo (Zaire). “Eight thousand years ago, people in present-day Zaire developed their own numeration system, as did Yoruba people in what is now Nigeria. The Yoruba system was based on units of 20 (instead of 10) and required an impressive amount of subtraction to identify different numbers. Scholars have lauded this system, as it required much abstract reasoning (3). [Source: 3 . Zaslavsky, C. “The Yoruba Number System.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. 110 – 127 (1983)]

“Astronomy: A structure known as the African Stonehenge in present-day Kenya (constructed around 300 B.C.) was a remarkably accurate calendar (5). The Dogon people of Mali amassed a wealth of detailed astronomical observations (6). Many of their discoveries were so advanced that some modern scholars credit their discoveries instead to space aliens or unknown European travelers, even though the Dogon culture is steeped in ceremonial tradition centered on several space events. The Dogon knew of Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons, the spiral structure of the Milky Way and the orbit of the Sirius star system. Hundreds of years ago, they plotted orbits in this system accurately through the year 1990 (6). They knew this system contained a primary star and a secondary star (now called Sirius B) of immense density and not visible to the naked eye. [ 5. Lynch, B. M. & Robbins, L. H. Science 4343, 766 – 768 (1978). 6. Adams, H. “African Observers of the Universe: The Sirius Question.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. 27 – 46 (1983)]

“Metallurgy and tools: Many advances in metallurgy and tool making were made across the entirety of ancient Africa. These include steam engines, metal chisels and saws, copper and iron tools and weapons, nails, glue, carbon steel and bronze weapons and art (1, 7). Advances in Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago surpassed those of Europeans then and were astonishing to Europeans when they learned of them. Ancient Tanzanian furnaces could reach 1,800°C — 200 to 400°C warmer than those of the Romans (8) [7. Brooks, L. African Achievements: Leaders, Civilizations and Cultures of Ancient Africa. (1971). 8. Shore, D. “Steel-Making in Ancient Africa.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern.157 – 162 (1983)]

“Navigation: Most of us learn that Europeans were the first to sail to the Americas. However, several lines of evidence suggest that ancient Africans sailed to South America and Asia hundreds of years before Europeans. Thousands of miles of waterways across Africa were trade routes. Many ancient societies in Africa built a variety of boats, including small reed-based vessels, sailboats and grander structures with many cabins and even cooking facilities. The Mali and Songhai built boats 100 feet long and 13 feet wide that could carry up to 80 tons (1). Currents in the Atlantic Ocean flow from this part of West Africa to South America. Genetic evidence from plants and descriptions and art from societies inhabiting South America at the time suggest small numbers of West Africans sailed to the east coast of South America and remained there (1). Contemporary scientists have reconstructed these ancient vessels and their fishing gear and have completed the transatlantic voyage successfully. Around the same time as they were sailing to South America, the 13th century, these ancient peoples also sailed to China and back, carrying elephants as cargo (1).” [1 Van Sertima, I. “The Lost Sciences of Africa: An Overview.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. 7 – 26 (1983).

Lebombo Bone: World’s Oldest Math Tool

lebombo bone markings

The 43,000-year-old Lebombo Bone — a kind of tally stick — found in Swaziland is oldest known mathematical object According to CNN: “The Lebombo Bone is essentially a Baboon fibula that has tally marks on it.... It is conjectured to have been used for tracking menstrual cycles, because it has 29 marks on it.

In the 1970’s during the excavations of Border Cave, a small piece of the fibula of a baboon, the Lebombo bone, was found marked with 29 clearly defined notches, and, at 37,000 years old, it ranks with the oldest mathematical objects known. The bone is dated approximately 35,000 BC and resembles the calendar sticks still in use by Bushmen clans in Nimibia. The closest town to the Lebombo Mountains is Siteki, renowned for its Inyanga and Sangoma School, a government school to train healers and diviners. [Source: CNN, November 15, 2012]

Changes in the section of the notches indicate the use of different cutting edges, which the bone's discoverer, Peter Beaumont, views as evidence for their having been made, like other markings found all over the world, during participation in rituals. The bone is between 44,200 and 43,000 years old, according to 24 radiocarbon datings. This is far older than the Ishango bone with which it is sometimes confused. Other notched bones are 80,000 years old but it is unclear if the notches are merely decorative or if they bear a functional meaning. [Source: Wikipedia +]

According to The Universal Book of Mathematics the Lebombo bone's 29 notches suggest "it may have been used as a lunar phase counter, in which case African women may have been the first mathematicians, because keeping track of menstrual cycles requires a lunar calendar". However, the bone is clearly broken at one end, so the 29 notches may or may not be a minimum number. In the cases of other notched bones since found globally, there has been no consistent notch tally, many being in the 1–10 range. +

Ishango Bone: 20,000 Baboon Bone Calculator from the Congo

Named after the place where it was found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Ishango bone is a bone tool described as the world’s oldest calculator and the world’s first mathematical device. Dated to the Upper Paleolitic period, between 22,000 and 20,000 years ago, Ishango bone is a dark brown bone, likely the fibula of a baboon, with a sharp piece of quartz affixed to one end for engraving. Belgian geologist Jean de Heinzelin de Braucourt found the bone in 1960 buried in layers of volcanic ashes on the shores of Lake Edward in the Ishango region in DRC, near the border with Uganda. The volcanic ash made it relatively easy to date. [Source: : Dr. Y., African Heritage, August 29, 2013, Wikipedia ~]

Ishango bone

The Ishango bone is actually two baboon bones, one 10 centimeters and the other 14 centimeters long, with several incisions on each of their faces. The smallest of the two bones was the first to be discovered. Its existence was announced by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels This bone has several incisions organized in groups of three columns. I) The left column is divided in four groups, respectively possessing 19, 17, 13, and 11 notches, adding up to a total of 60 notches. The numbers 11, 13, 17 and 19 are the four prime numbers between 10 and 20. This constitutes a quad of prime numbers. II) The central column is divided in groups of 8 with some debate over how many notches there are (in the parenthesis, is the maximum number): 7 (8), 5 (7), 5 (9), 10, 8 (14), 4 (6), 6, 3. The minimal sum is 48, while the maximal sum is 63. III) The right column is divided into four groups, respectively possessing 9, 19, 21, and 11 notches, adding up to a total of 60. The second bone has not been well-studied. However, we know that it is composed of 6 groups of 20, 6, 18, 6, 20, and 8 notches. ~

According to the African Heritage blog: “The first bone has been subject to a lot of interpretation. At first, it was thought to be just a tally stick with a series of tally marks, but scientists have demonstrated that the groupings of notches on the bone are indicative of a mathematical understanding which goes beyond simple counting. In fact, many believe that the notches follow a mathematical succession. The notches have been interpreted as a prehistoric calculator, or maybe a lunar calendar. Jean de Heinzellin was the first to consider the bone as a vestige of interest in the history of mathematics. For instance, he noted that the numbers in the left column were compatible with a numeration system based on 10, since he saw that: 21 = 20 + 1, 19 = 20 – 1, 11 = 10 +1, and 9 = 10 -1. These numbers are also prime numbers between 10 and 20: 11, 13, 17, 19.” ~

A Belgian physical engineer proposed that the bones were a slide rule. Alexander Marshack has argued that they are the oldest known lunar calendar on earth. Claudia Zaslavsky thinks that the Ishango bone maker was a woman following the lunar phases to calculate her menstrual cycle. The second bone appears to have no connection with lunar calendar theory, and favors more the numeration system. ~

World’s Oldest Calendar: 10,000-Year-Old Pits in Scotland

Ishango bone markings

According to British archaeologists humans developed a sophisticated calendrical system thousands of years earlier than previously thought, David Keys wrote in The Independent: “The discovery is based on a detailed analysis of data from an archaeological site in northern Scotland – a row of ancient pits which archaeologists believe is the world’s oldest calendar. It is almost five thousand years older than its nearest rival – an ancient calendar from Bronze Age Mesopotamia. [Source: David Keys. The Independent, July 15, 2013]

“Created by Stone Age Britons some 10,000 years ago, archaeologists believe that the complex of pits was designed to represent the months of the year and the lunar phases of the month. They believe it also allowed the observation of the mid-winter sunrise – in effect the birth of the new year – so that the lunar calendar could be annually re-calibrated to bring it back into line with the solar year. Remarkably the monument was in use for some 4,000 years – from around 8,000BC (the early Mesolithic period) to around 4,000BC (the early Neolithic).

“The pits were periodically re-cut – probably dozens of times, possibly hundreds of times – over those four millennia. It is therefore impossible to know whether or not they originally held timber posts or standing stones after they were first dug 10,000 years ago. However variations in the depths of the pits suggest that the arc had a complex design - with each lunar month potentially divided into three roughly ten day ‘weeks’ – representing the waxing moon, the gibbous/full moon and the waning moon.

“The 50 metre long row of 12 main pits was arranged as an arc facing a v-shaped dip in the horizon out of which the sun rose on mid-winter’s day. There are 12.37 lunar cycles (lunar months) in a solar year – and the archaeologists believe that each pit represented a particular month, with the entire arc representing a year. The 12 pits may also have played a second role by representing the lunar month. Mirroring the phases of the moon, the waxing and the waning of which takes 29 and half days, the succession of pits, arranged in a shallow arc (perhaps symbolizing the movement of the moon across the sky), starts small and shallow at one end, grows in diameter and depth towards the middle of the arc and then wanes in size at the other end.

“In its role as an annual calendar (covering 12 months – one for each pit), a pattern of alternating pit depths suggests that adjacent months may have been paired in some way, potentially reflecting some sort of dualistic cosmological belief system – known in the ethnographic and historical record in many parts of the world, but not previously detected archaeologically from the Stone Age.

:Keeping track of time would have been of immense economic and spiritual use to the hunter gatherer communities of the Mesolithic period. Their calendar would have helped them to pinpoint the precise time that animal herds could be expected to migrate or the most likely time that salmon might begin to run. But Stone Age communal leaders – potentially including Shamans – may also have used the calendar to give themselves the appearance of being able to predict or control the seasons or the behaviour of the moon and the sun.

“The site – at Warren Field, Crathes, Aberdeenshire – was excavated in 2004 by the National Trust for Scotland, but the data was only analysed in detail over the past six months using the specially written software which permitted an interactive exploration of the relationship between the 12 pits, the local topography and the movements of the moon and the sun. The analysis has been carried out by a team of specialists led by Professor Vincent Gaffney of the University of Birmingham. “The research demonstrates that Stone Age society 10,000 years ago was much more sophisticated than we had previously suspected. The site has implications for the way we understand how Mesolithic society developed in economic, social and cosmological terms, ” said Professor Gaffney. “The evidence suggests that hunter-gatherer societies in Scotland had both the need and sophistication to track time across the years, to correct for seasonal drift of the lunar year and that this occurred nearly 5000 years before the first formal calendars known in the Near East. In doing so, this illustrates one important step towards the formal construction of time and therefore history itself,” he said. “

Scottish calendar

6,000-Year-Old Passage Grave “Telescope” in Portugal

Avery Thompson wrote in Popular Mechanics: “Much of our culture has been shaped by what ancient humans thought about while looking at the night sky. Myths and legends, gods and demons, all are influenced by our ancestors' observations of the movements of the planets and stars. And now, researchers have uncovered one of the earliest tools that they used to make those observations: a telescope from six thousand years ago. [Source: Avery Thompson, Popular Mechanics, Royal Astronomical Society, July 1, 2016 +++]

“While a modern telescope works by magnifying images with mirrors or lenses, this ancient structure is a long, narrow corridor designed to filter out unwanted light. The corridor helps when viewing stars during the hours of dawn and twilight, when the light from the sun makes it hard to view stars near the horizon. The structure is part of a what's called a "passage grave," a prehistoric tomb with a long entrance corridor. Passage graves are found throughout Europe, and scientists are just starting to examine the astronomical uses of their entrances. The researchers are focusing on a particular passage grave, the Seven-Stone Antas in central Portugal, which is about 6,000 years old. +++

“The researchers believe that the Seven-Stone Antas corridor was used to view the star Aldebaran, the red giant in the constellation Taurus. Aldebaran first becomes visible in the Northern Hemisphere in the early morning of late April, just before sunrise, and viewing it through the passage could make it visible days earlier. Aldebaran likely was a seasonal marker, and its appearance would signal migration patterns or weather changes. The researchers are now studying other passage graves, in the hope of learning more about prehistoric people.” +++

Nebra Sky Disc: Oldest Depiction of the Universe?

Jessica Orwig wrote in Business Insider: “The design on this disc might look like a six-year-old's scribbles, but in reality, it's one of the most sophisticated and influential artifacts of the Bronze Age. Called the Nebra sky disc, named for the town where it was found in 1999, the artifact has been dated back to 1600 B.C. It's thought to have been forged during the European Bronze Age, a period between 3200 and 600 B.C. The disc's discovery stunned archaeologists, who thought of the Bronze Age as brutal, uncivilized times of killing and little else — most artifacts we've found are swords and other weapons designed for battle.[Source: Jessica Orwig, Business Insider, January 21, 2015 +++]

“The disc is about one foot across and weighs nearly five pounds. When it was first crafted, it would have shone a brilliant golden brown because the disc itself is made from bronze. But over time, the bronze corroded to green. The symbols are made of gold and didn't corrode. Although experts do not agree on what each symbol represents, for example the full circle could be the sun, full moon, or some type of eclipse, the overall message is clear that the symbols represent celestial objects. +++

“This disc meant that the people of the Bronze Age were not an uncivilized culture that only crafted weapons for killing. Instead, the people who lived at this time had an intellectual understanding of the sky. The Nebra sky disc was unlike any other artifact of its time. Some archaeologists thought the disc was too incredible to be real. +++

"When I first heard about the Nebra Disc I thought it was a joke, indeed I thought it was a forgery," Richard Harrison told the BBC in a documentary of the disc. Harrison is a professor of European prehistory at the University of Bristol and expert on the culture that inhabited Germany during the Bronze Age. "Because it's such an extraordinary piece that it wouldn't surprise any of us that a clever forger had cooked this up in a backroom and sold it for a lot of money." +++

“The disc was sent to the laboratory of Heinrich Wunderlich at the Museum of Halle in Eastern Germany. Heinrich specializes in dating artifacts from the Bronze age. If the disc was a fake, he could easily find out by studying the greenish bronze covering the disc.Bronze disease is the corrosive process that occurs when chloride molecules, such as chloride salts in soil, interact with bronze (or other copper-based materials). The result is a chemical reaction producing microscopic crystals that look either white or green. Over time, these crystals grow larger, which means that Wunderlich could easily spot a forgery by looking at the size of the crystals. When he looked under the microscope, he saw large crystals, which resembled large bubbles, shown in the image below, that spoke to the disc's authenticity. It was no fake. "When I saw down the microscope, I saw structure which was like bubbles," Wunderlich told BBC. "This can not be made artificially. You can't fake time."

Symbols on The Nebra Sky Disc

Nebra Sky Disc

Jessica Orwig wrote in Business Insider: “Scientists have dated the disc to the time it was buried underground, but they don't know exactly when it was made. It was buried about 3,600 years ago but could be much older. In addition to its age, the precise meaning of the disc eludes explanation. But an expert in Bronze Age religions, Miranda Aldhouse Green, at Cardiff University in the UK, has put together a general picture of what it might have meant for the people who used it thousands of years ago. [Source: Jessica Orwig, Business Insider, January 21, 2015 +++]

There are six objects of importance depicted on the disc: 1) Sun (or full Moon or a type of solar or lunar eclipse); 2) Crescent Moon; 3) Sun Boat; 4) Pleiades Constellation; 5) Left arc; 6) Right arc. +++

“It makes sense that the full circle slightly left of center would be the sun, Green said in the BBC documentary, "The sun is absolutely central to northern European Bronze Age religion. There's a clear connection between the sun and life. If the sun disappears then life comes to an end." And the crescent shape is likely a crescent moon. In ancient times, the moon was used to represent time, and, "if you can control time, and if you understand time, then you are a powerful, a powerful human being," Green said. Then there's the smiley-shaped band beneath the sun and moon, which Green suspects is the sun boat — an ancient holy symbol. Bronze Age Europeans believed that the sun traveled on a sun boat when it set at night. +++

“The smaller circles speckled across the disc seem to represent stars. In particular, the concentrated clump between the sun and moon are thought to be the Pleiades constellation, which was an imporant constellation for Bronze Age farmers because it first appeared in March and disappeared in October — important farming times. "We know from Greek writers that the Pleiades were used as an agricultural marker, so that farmers knew when they should do certain agricultural activities," Green said. "So what the Nebra disc does is to tell people not only the right time to [plant and harvest] but it is the blessed time to do it." The left and right arcs on either side of the disc have an additional agricultural importance and were crucial in helping scientists determine that the disc was European-made.” +++

Meaning of the Nebra Sky Disc Symbols

Jessica Orwig wrote in Business Insider: “After analyzing these fairly simple explanations, archaeologists around the world started asking other questions: What did the arcs represent? Was the disc actually an artifact forged by Bronze Age Europeans? Or was it from another culture and managed to make its way into Germany by some unknown means? [Source: Jessica Orwig, Business Insider, January 21, 2015 +++]

“It was astronomer Wolfhard Schlosser, at the University of Hamburg, who made the connection. He found that if you draw a line from the center of the disc to the top and bottom end of the right arc, the angle between the two ends measures exactly 82 degrees. And it's the same value for the left golden arc. This number is very important for only a small group of people who live at the same latitude as the current German town of Nebra. That's because it's the angle between where the sun sets on the horizon in mid-winter and mid-summer. "The angle between both is precisely eighty two degrees," Schlosser told BBC. "This angle responds to the journey of the sun between summer and winter for this specific latitude right here in Nebra." +++

“Although Schlosser's find offered compelling evidence that the disc was crafted in Europe, the only way to determine beyond any doubt was to discover where the metals came from. Archaeologist Ernst Pernicka further investigated the copper within the bronze. Copper has a unique fingerprint that Pernicka used to compare copper in Bronze Age mines versus Mediterranean metals. From this, he traced the disc's metal to a European mine, confirming that the disc was manufactured from European metal and was not a gift crafted by another culture.” +++

Today, The Nebra Sky Disc is on public display at the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany. In 2013, UNESCO inducted the disc into their Memory of the World Register stating: “The bronze disc is considered to be one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th Century. It combines an extraordinary comprehension of astronomical phenomena with the religious beliefs of its period, that enable unique glimpses into the early knowledge of the heavens”. +++

First Boats and Ships

ancient Phoenician boat
Remains of boats found in Australia, Sardinia and Crete show that men have been crossing seas for more than 10,000 years. The oldest known boat is a dugout found in Denmark dated to 6000 B.C. The oldest known vessels with planks were found in Egypt and date to about 3000 B.C.

The oldest boats to be found by archaeological excavation are logboats from around 7,000 to10,000 years ago. The oldest recovered boat in the world is the canoe of Pesse; it is a dugout or hollowed tree trunk from a Pinus sylvestris. According to carbon-14 dating analysis it was constructed somewhere between 8200 and 7600 B.C. This canoe is exhibited in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands; other very old dugout boats have been recovered. A 7,000 year-old seagoing boat made from reeds and tar has been found in Kuwait. Boats were used between 4000 BCE and 3000 BCE in Sumer, ancient Egypt and in the Indian Ocean. [Source: Wikipedia]

Agriculture was introduced to Europe proper around 7000 B.C. Some think was done with early ships. In the late 1990s, a team led by Czech archaeologist Radomir Tichy built a boat from a 30-foot section of tree trunk and padded it, hugging the coast, from Sicily to Portugal on the Atlantic Ocean to make the point that agriculture could have been carried suddenly by boat rather slowly overland.

Boats played a very important part in the commerce between the Indus Valley Civilization and Mesopotamia and among Egyptians and Mediterranean cultures. Evidence of varying models of boats has also been discovered in various Indus Valley sites and in Egypt.

See Egyptians, Phonecians and Greeks

Bronze Age Ship

A Bronze Age ship, discovered off of the southwest coast of Turkey, is the world's oldest known shipwreck. Dating back date to 2900 B.C., this ship was found in 150-feet-deep water near Ulan Burun and Kaş. It carried products from at least seven cultures and some of the more interesting objects included ostrich eggs from African elephant and hippopotamus tusks from the Syro-Palestinian coast; and drinking cups made of fused quartz from Canaan. [Source: George F. Bass, National Geographic, December 1987]

Also discovered were gold scarabs from Egypt; small bronze cymbals (similar to those used by belly dancers today) and swords from Mycenea; Egyptian ebony, cobalt-colored glass ingots from Syria and Palestine; Canaanite jewelry, a gold scarab of Queen Nefertiti from Egypt and yellow terbinth resin (a material of unknown purpose also found in Egyptian graves). There was even a "book," possibly the world's oldest, made with ivory hinged wooden leaves covered with inscribed beeswax.

20120207-boat_from_the_Middle_Kingdom 1.jpg
ancient Egyptian boat
The Ulan Burun ship was discovered in 1982 by a sponge diver who saw some "metal biscuits with ears," which turned out to be tons of 60 pound copper ingots from Cyprus. Dr. George Bass, the archaeologist in charge of excavation, considered sponge divers as his best source of information. He calculated that sponge divers on 25 boats could cover as much water in one four month season as a marine archaeologist could in two years without coming up for air.

The scuba divers that excavated the site were able to stay underwater for only twenty minutes at a time. If they stayed down longer they risked getting the bends. Sediment around the objects was removed with vacuums attached to fire hoses, and large objects were carried to the surface with balloons.

Six tons of Cypriot copper ingots were also found on the ship. When mixed with tin, the copper would produce enough bronze to manufacture a total of 300 helmets, 300 corselets, 3,000 spearheads, and 3,000 swords.

Mesolithic Animal and Fish Traps

Heather Whipps wrote in Live Science: "Low stone walls crisscrossing the deserts of Israel, Egypt and Jordan have puzzled archaeologists since their discovery by pilots in the early 20th century. The chain of lines some up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) long and nicknamed "kites" by scientists for their appearance from the air date to 300 B.C., but were abandoned long ago. A study in 2010 claimed that the purpose of the kites was to funnel wild animals toward a small pit, where they could easily be killed in large numbers. This efficient system suggests that local hunters knew more about the behavior of local fauna than previously thought." [Source: Heather Whipps. Live Science, July 22, 2010]

Archaeologist Michael Gibbons discovered a complex series of weirs and dams dating to the Mesolithic Era in Ireland. The Irish Times reported: “A complex series of weirs and dams to trap rare fish on Connemara’s Errislannan peninsula may date back to the Mesolithic period, according to the archaeologist who made the discovery. [Source: Irish Times ]

“Significantly, one local resident is still making and using traps for the weir and dam system, modelled on pre-Christian design, archaeologist Michael Gibbons said. John Folan said he was unaware of the historical importance of the equipment, the coastal system, or the fish species, until contacted by Mr Gibbons. The National Museum of Ireland has now commissioned him to construct one of his traps for its folklife collection.

“Mr Gibbons was walking on the north side of Errislannan, outside Clifden, when he came across the stone ponds, channels and dams linking Mannin Bay to several inner lagoons. He learned that the system was designed to enclose and trap a fish called “marin” or “mearachán”, which is similar to a smelt, and may be related to shad, which frequent the river Barrow.

“Marine biologist Dr Cillian Roden said the fish type was “fascinating”, but its identity was uncertain. “It could be that these smelt do live in lagoons, and it would make the lagoons very important in environmental terms,” he said. Mr Folan said he had learned from his father and grandfather how to make traps, known as “cochill”, which are placed in the upper end of the dam and weir system. He uses fencing or chicken wire and wood for a design that resembles an ice-cream cone. Formerly the traps were made of sally rods.

““It is going back generations,” he said. “People depended on the fish and you’d get hundreds of them sometimes, but only during early spring. You could boil them, fry them, cook them any way, and we’d often bring them into Clifden.” The arrival of Arctic terns close to the lagoons below Mr Folan’s house heralded the presence of the fish around St Patrick’s Day, at a time when food resources were low after winter. Mr Gibbons said the system, dating back to Mesolithic times, had been adapted for contemporary use over centuries. “This is a very important part of the maritime history and archaeology, and shows how rich our coastline is in historical terms,” he said..”

Decline of Mammal Populations in the Past 6,000 Years: Climate Change the Cause?

Virginia Gewin wrote in Nature: “Ancient Egyptian rock inscriptions and carvings on pharaonic tombs chronicle hartebeest and oryx — horned beasts that thrived in the region more than 6,000 years ago. Researchers have now shown that those mammal populations became unstable in concert with significant shifts in Egypt’s climate. [Source: Virginia Gewin, Nature, August 8, 2013 ~]

“The finding is based on a fresh interpretation of an archaeological and palaeontological record of ancient Egyptian mammals pieced together more than a decade ago by the zoologist Dale Osborn. Thirty-eight large-bodied mammals existed in Egypt roughly six millennia ago, compared to just eight species today. “There are interesting stories buried in the data — at the congruence of the artistic and written record,” says Justin Yeakel, an ecologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, who presented the research this week at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For example, the philosopher Aristotle said 2,300 years ago that lions were present, though rare, in Greece; shortly thereafter, the beasts appeared in the local art record for the last time, Yeakel says. ~

“Overlaying records of climate and species occurrences over time, his team found that three dramatic declines in Egypt’s ratio of predators to prey coincided with abrupt climate shifts to more arid conditions. The timing of these aridification events also corresponds to major shifts in human populations at the end of the African Humid Period, about 5,500 years ago; during the Akkadian collapse, about 4,140 years ago in what is now Iraq; and about 3,100 years ago, when the Ugaritic civilization collapsed in what is now Syria. ~

“Once they found the climate correlation, Yeakel and Mathias Pires, an ecological modeller from the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil, examined the consequences of the ancient extinctions on food-web stability. The researchers adapted a method for modelling food-web interactions with limited data. They simulated millions of potential predator–prey interactions using data about species’ body sizes. Tests using data from modern Serengeti food webs suggest the model correctly predicts 70% of predator-prey interactions. ~

“Normally, as food webs get smaller, they become more stable, says Yeakel. But his simulations showed that the proportion of stable food webs in Egypt declined over time, with the largest drop in stability occurring over the past 200 years. “Food webs are giant messy networks,” says Carl Boettiger, a computational ecologist at University of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved with the work. “This approach is a powerful way to infer the stability of the food web without knowing specifically who eats who, much less the whole network structure,” he adds. ~

“Yeakel and his colleagues confirmed that the extinction patterns in Egypt cannot be explained by random events. They also found that the presence or absence of any one species did not seem to have much impact on a food web — in sharp contrast to conditions today in many landscapes, possibly owing to rapid changes caused by human encroachment. “We’ve lost redundancy in ecosystems,” Yeakel says, “which is why the absence of any one species can alter the stability of the system.” ~

Image Sources: Wikipedia Commons except Scottish calendar David Kreps

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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