Researchers say they have confirmed their theory that humans were active in a cave in South Africa much earlier than originally thought and that the occupation of Wonderwerk Cave dated 1.8 million years ago, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said in a statement on Monday with.
The assessment by the team of geologists and archaeologists from the University and the University of Toronto pushes the prehistoric past in the desert cave back by almost a million years.
While ancient people were known to use basic stone tools known as oldowan as early as 2.5 million years ago, this activity was open. Wonderwerk, which means “miracle” in Afrikaans, contains the world’s earliest evidence of such tool use in a cave.
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“We can now say with confidence that our human ancestors made simple Oldowan stone tools in Wonderwerk Cave 1.8 million years ago,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Ron Shaar of the Hebrew Geosciences Institute University, in the statement. “Wonderwerk is unique among the ancient Oldowan sites, a type of tool found in East Africa 2.6 million years ago precisely because it is a cave, not an open-air event.”
Over a decade ago, members of the team led by University of Toronto researcher Michael Chazan initially estimated the dwelling in the cave to be around 2 million years ago, but according to Liora Kolska Horwitz, the idea was accepted by most of the university’s scholars rejected National Natural History Collections of the Hebrew University.
In the most recent study, researchers used delicate laboratory analysis to unlock faint traces of cosmic rays and the age-old orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field as various layers of sediment were blown into the cave that extends 140 meters into the side of a hill and the small ones Fragments left over from human activity are embedded in the layers.
The researchers were able to identify the time period when the cave dwellers switched from using sharp stone faults and other such chopping tools to using early handaxes over 1 million years ago. You could also see when prehistoric ancestors began to use fire on purpose, a discovery of particular importance as other examples of early open space fires are less reliable due to the possible role forest fires can play in creating charred remains.
The process of dating cave deposits in studying human evolution is challenging. The team analyzed a 2.5 meter thick layer of sediment that contained stone tools, animal remains and remains of fire.
One of the minerals found in clay is iron, an element that is affected by magnetic fields. Clay particles are magnetically oriented in harmony with the earth, and researchers examining samples from the cave floor were able to infer clues as to the orientation of the earth’s magnetic field when buried.
“We carefully removed hundreds of tiny samples of sediment from the cave walls and measured their magnetic signal, “said Shaar. “Our laboratory analysis showed that some of the samples were magnetized to the south instead of the north, which corresponds to the direction of today’s magnetic field.”
About every half a million years, the earth’s magnetic field changes direction and changes from one pole to the other.
“Since the exact timing of these magnetic” reversals “is known worldwide, it gave us clues as to the antiquity of the entire layer sequence in the cave,” said Shaar.
Another team member, Prof. Ari Matmon, director of the Institute of Geosciences at the Hebrew University, studied quartz particles that gave clues as to when they were brought into the cave due to certain isotopes that form when the quartz is exposed to the rays on the ground outside and then decayed as it went the time when they were deposited in the cave.
“In our laboratory we can measure the concentrations of specific isotopes in these particles and deduce how much time has passed since these grains of sand entered the cave, “said Matmon in the statement.
The discoveries have” far-reaching implications, “the university said in the statement, as they” represent an important step in understanding the pace of human activity Evolution on the African continent “.
” With a fixed timescale for Wonderwerk Cave we can further investigate the connection between human evolution and climate change and the evolution of the way of life of our early human ancestors, “the statement says.
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