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45,000-Year-Old Stone Tools From Cave In Jordan Hint How Humans Started Specializing Different Skills

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As early as the Paleolithic era, humans have found different ways of dividing their work based on the tools they used.

This is what came out of a study recently published in the Journal of Human Evolution, when a large number of stones were dug up in a cave in Jordan.

The importance of organization and division of labor in as early as the prehistoric times was first stressed by anthropologists Steven Kuhn and Mary Stiner.

More recently, anthropologists Liv Nilsson Stutz and Aaron Jonas Stutz discovered thousands of stone tools at the Mughr el-Hamamah. These stones were designed to serve specific purposes. Similar to our cutting tools today, such as blades and knives, the handful of artifacts revealed points, blades, scrapers and cutting flakes.

The anthropological/married couple tandem headed excavations of the cave in 2010, much thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.

"We have achieved remarkably accurate estimates of 40,000 to 45,000 years ago for the earliest Upper Paleolithic stone tools in the Near East. Our findings confirm that the Upper Paleolithic began in the region no later than 42,000 years ago, and likely at least 44,600 years ago," said Aaron, a professor at Emory's Oxford College.

The discovery was made in the Levantine, a corridor between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Here, generations transitioning to Eurasia would have passed through, looking for food and shelter.

It is not yet certain whether these humans, who used the newly discovered artifacts, were Neanderthals or modern men. However, recent studies suggest that these were a mix of different populations.

"What we see at the Mughr el-Hamamah site is that individuals were starting to live, work and form families in larger, more culturally structured social networks," Aaron added.

"We can speculate that several families shared the space and worked alongside one another," he added. "We found burned animal bones, so they were likely roasting meat, and perhaps boiling plants in hides suspended over their fires as they sat nearby making tools. From the mouth of the cave, they would have had a commanding view of what was likely wetlands and open-vegetation terrain. They could see approaching visitors and deer and gazelle wandering in the distance. If their kids were playing outside, they might also be watching for leopards or other predators."

These findings at the Mughr el-Hamamah site show how the prehistoric toolmakers used their tools to divide labor, moving forward into a more organized and efficient society.

The Mughr el-Hamamah, a site 240 feet above sea level, sits on a limestone outcrop, making light of the Jordan Valley.

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