Prehistoric people in the Philippines were able to make ropes and baskets from plant fibers nearly 40,000 years ago, according to an analysis of stone tools. The find suggests that people living then might have produced more sophisticated constructions, such as ships and buildings, than previously thought.
“Mastering fiber technology was a very important step in human development. It allows you to assemble different objects and build houses, make composite objects, hunt with bows,” says Hermine Xhauflair from the University of the Philippines Diliman. “Eventually, the existence of ropes allows people to tie a sail to canoes and create boats that can be used to go very far.”
Because of this, archaeologists are interested in studying ancient fibers, but their organic nature means few have been preserved: the oldest ever found is a 50,000-year-old piece of rope thought to have been made by Neanderthals. .
This lack of specimens means that archaeologists often have to rely on indirect evidence for textile production, such as representation in art, fiber plant seedseither signs of fiber processing on stone tools.
Xhauflair and his colleagues have done just that, in their case analyzing 43 stone tools dating to 33,000 to 39,000 years ago that had been excavated from the Tabon Caves on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
To see if these tools had Used to make textiles, Xhauflair learned fiber processing techniques from the island’s indigenous inhabitants of today, the Pala’wan people, then used replicas of the tools, which are made from a stone known as red jasper, to slim down the fibers. bamboo, palm and other plants. The researchers examined these replica tools under a microscope to look for wear patterns created by plant processing and then compared these marks to the old tools.
Three stone tools from the cave bore similar markings, suggesting that they were once used to transform rigid plants into flexible strips. These signs included a brushstroke-like pattern of ridges, micropolishing, and microscarring on the surface of the tools. The team also found residue on one of the tools in the cave that came from a plant in the Poaceae family, of which bamboo is a member.
Xhauflair isn’t so sure what the prehistoric Filipinos made of these flexible strips. Today the Pala’wan people use them to make baskets and traps or to tie objects, so they may have had the same use in the past. “What we can conclude is that prehistoric peoples had the ability to do all these things as soon as they knew how to process the fibers,” he says.
“The study is intriguing as it opens the door to investigating aspects of past human behavior that are not normally preserved in archaeological sites,” he says. ben shaw at the Australian National University. “Though the remnants of the plant are long gone, [the team’s] The detailed approach has made them visible by looking at the tools used to process them.”
With this evidence of early fiber technology, Shaw says it might be worth re-examining previously excavated sites in the region, as activities like boat-making or building construction may have been overlooked if rope-making hadn’t. considered part of the ancient inhabitants. Toolbox