Antarctic rocks will help classify stone tools from their natural appearance

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AAntarctica is somewhere It may be thought that archaeologists have little business. After all, mankind did not reach it until 1821. However​​a study published in Antiquity by Metin Eren of Kent State University, in Ohio, argues that it is worth the attention for that very reason.

A challenge faced by those archaeologists who study the Stone Age, especially the Palaeolithic (that is most of hominid history, including species such as Homo neanderthalensis and Homo heidelbergensis). There are many cases where a rock that has been identified as having been deliberately worked by a hominid hand is reclassified as a naturally made object.

Dr Eren and his colleagues thought it might therefore be useful to collect a library of tool-like rocks from a place where there was no chance that people or their ancestors could have chipped them. They turned to Antarctica because, not only was it reached only 200 years ago, but it also supports a number of processes, including glacier erosion, frost splitting and river transport, which could beat rocks into tool-like shapes.

Instead of visiting the continent itself, they knocked on the doors of the Polar Rock Store in Columbus, the capital of Ohio, where thousands of Antarctic rock samples are stored. They used the depositor’s database to find samples of material – particularly basalt, chert (the most familiar type of flint) and obsidian – that pre-dated hominids had a penchant for working in tools. to develop bronze and iron. They then examined them in detail and identified 14 that they thought might have led archaeologists to believe they were deliberately made.

They argue in their paper that these samples should form the core of a reference collection, with which questionable findings could be compared. They also hope to add to this collection by raiding the part that belonged to the British Antarctic Survey, in Cambridge. That would certainly help professional archaeologists. For the uninitiated who may be wondering if the “tool” pictured at the top of this article is natural or man-made: it is a real tool, from Spain, made 350,000 years ago by Homo heilbergensis.

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