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Neolithic man: The first lumberjack?

Date:
August 9, 2012
Source:
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Summary:
Scientists have unearthed evidence that sophisticated carpentry tools first appeared at the same time as increased agriculture and the establishment of permanent settlements during the Neolithic Age.

Some utilized Bifaces and a tranchet spall from EPPNB layer VI at Motza. Ventral face to the left, dorsal face to the right, black lines show the extent of the wood-working microwear traces, arrows show the orientation of the polish and striations, lines with dots show location of hafting traces. (A) Polished greenstone axe from SN 2, Locus 2136, Basket 40013, made of green stone, with weakly-developed wood working traces and slight edge damage along distal edge. (B) flint tranchet axe, SN 32, Locus 4050, Basket 41007. Circle shows the location of Fig. 3 Right. (C) flint tranchet chisel N19c, SN 14, Locus 4014, Basket 40211. Circle shows the location of Fig. 4 Right. (D) tranchet spall, SN 26, Basket 40309. Circle shows the location of Fig. 5. (E) flint tranchet axe resharpened by polishing, SN 15, Locus 5016, Basket 50135. Circle shows the location of Fig. 6. (F) flint tranchet axe, SN 34, Locus 5040, Basket 50437. Circle shows the location of Fig. 7. (G) flint tranchet axe K17c from Motza, SN 11, Locus 5040, Basket 50479. Circle shows the location of Fig. 8. (H) base of a recycled flint axe, SN 33, Locus 5067, Basket 50730 with worn lateral edges and worn dorsal and ventral faces. Some of these surfaces have large patches of stone-on-stone polish. It seems to have been re-used as a stone polishing tool.
Credit: Yerkes et al, PLoS One, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042442.g002

During the Neolithic Age (approximately 10000-6000 BCE), early man evolved from hunter-gatherer to farmer and agriculturalist, living in larger, permanent settlements with a variety of domesticated animals and plant life. This transition brought about significant changes in terms of the economy, architecture, man's relationship to the environment, and more.

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Now Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations has shed new light on this milestone in human evolution, demonstrating a direct connection between the development of an agricultural society and the development of woodworking tools.

"Intensive woodworking and tree-felling was a phenomenon that only appeared with the onset of the major changes in human life, including the transition to agriculture and permanent villages," says Dr. Barkai, whose research was published in the journal PLoS One. Prior to the Neolithic period, there is no evidence of tools that were powerful enough to cut and carve wood, let alone fell trees. But new archaeological evidence suggests that as the Neolithic age progressed, sophisticated carpentry developed alongside agriculture.

Evolution of axes

The use of functional tools in relation to woodworking over the course of the Neolithic period has not been studied in detail until now. Through their work at the archaeological site of Motza, a neighbourhood in the Judean Hills, Dr. Barkai and his fellow researchers, Prof. Rick Yerkes of Ohio State University and Dr. Hamudi Khalaily of the Israel Antiquity Authority, have unearthed evidence that increasing sophistication in terms of carpentry tools corresponds with increased agriculture and permanent settlements.

The early part of the Neolithic age is divided into two distinct eras -- Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). Agriculture and domesticated plants and animals appear only in PPNB, so the transition between these two periods is a watershed moment in human history. And these changes can be tracked in the woodworking tools which belong to each period, says Dr. Barkai.

Within PPNA, humans remained gatherers but lived in more permanent settlements for the first time, he says. Axes associated with this period are small and delicate, used for light carpentry but not suited for felling trees or other massive woodworking tasks. In PPNB, the tools have evolved to much larger and heavier axes, formed by a technique called polishing. The researchers' in-depth analysis of these tools shows that they were used to cut down trees and complete various building projects.

"We can document step by step the transition from the absence of woodworking tools, to delicate woodworking tools, to heavier woodworking tools," Dr. Barkai says, and this follows the "actual transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture." He also identifies a trial-and-error phase during which humans tried to create an axe strong enough to undertake larger woodworking tasks. Eventually, they succeeded in creating a massive ground stone axe in PPNB.

Home makeover

Whether the transition to an agricultural society led to the development of major carpentry tools or vice versa remains to be determined, says Dr. Barkai, who characterizes it as a "circular argument." Whatever the answer, the parallel changes led to a revolution in lifestyle.

Beyond the change from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural economy, a new form of architecture also emerged. Not only did people begin to live in permanent villages, but the buildings in which they lived literally took a different shape. The round and oval structures of earlier domiciles were replaced by rectangular structures in PPNB, explains Dr. Barkai. "Evidence tells that us that for each home, approximately 10 wooden beams were needed. Prior to this, there were no homes with wooden beams." In addition, humans began to produce limestone-based plaster floors for their homes -- which also represented a growing use of wood, since plaster is manufactured by heating limestone.

These architectural developments, along with building pens and fences for domesticated animals, also necessitated the felling of trees in large quantities.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Richard W. Yerkes, Hamudi Khalaily, Ran Barkai. Form and Function of Early Neolithic Bifacial Stone Tools Reflects Changes in Land Use Practices during the Neolithization Process in the Levant. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (8): e42442 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042442

Cite This Page:

American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "Neolithic man: The first lumberjack?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809133805.htm>.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. (2012, August 9). Neolithic man: The first lumberjack?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809133805.htm
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "Neolithic man: The first lumberjack?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809133805.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

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