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Microbotanical residues for the study of early hominin tools


Mercader, Julio; Belev, George; Bushozi, Pastory; et al; Pedergnana, Antonella (2022). Microbotanical residues for the study of early hominin tools. Scientific Reports, 12:2951.

Abstract

More than 2 million years ago in East Africa, the earliest hominin stone tools evolved amidst changes in resource base, with pounding technology playing a key role in this adaptive process. Olduvai Gorge (now Oldupai) is a famed locality that remains paramount for the study of human evolution, also yielding some of the oldest battering tools in the world. However, direct evidence of the resources processed with these technologies is lacking entirely. One way to obtain this evidence is through the analysis of surviving residues. Yet, linking residues with past processing activities is not simple. In the case of plant exploitation, this link can only be established by assessing site-based reference collections inclusive of both anthropogenic and natural residues as a necessary first step and comparative starting point. In this paper, we assess microbotanical remains from rock clasts sourced at the same quarry utilized by Oldowan hominins at Oldupai Gorge. We mapped this signal and analysed it quantitatively to classify its spatial distribution objectively, extracting proxies for taxonomic identification and further comparison with freestanding soils. In addition, we used blanks to manufacture pounding tools for blind, controlled replication of plant processing. We discovered that stone blanks are in fact environmental reservoirs in which plant remains are trapped by lithobionts, preserved as hardened accretions. Tool use, on the other hand, creates residue clusters; however, their spatial distribution can be discriminated from purely natural assemblages by the georeferencing of residues and statistical analysis of resulting patterns. To conclude, we provide a protocol for best practice and a workflow that has the advantage of overcoming environmental noise, reducing the risk of false positive, delivering a firm understanding of residues as polygenic mixtures, a reliable use of controls, and most importantly, a stronger link between microbotanical remains and stone tool use.

Abstract

More than 2 million years ago in East Africa, the earliest hominin stone tools evolved amidst changes in resource base, with pounding technology playing a key role in this adaptive process. Olduvai Gorge (now Oldupai) is a famed locality that remains paramount for the study of human evolution, also yielding some of the oldest battering tools in the world. However, direct evidence of the resources processed with these technologies is lacking entirely. One way to obtain this evidence is through the analysis of surviving residues. Yet, linking residues with past processing activities is not simple. In the case of plant exploitation, this link can only be established by assessing site-based reference collections inclusive of both anthropogenic and natural residues as a necessary first step and comparative starting point. In this paper, we assess microbotanical remains from rock clasts sourced at the same quarry utilized by Oldowan hominins at Oldupai Gorge. We mapped this signal and analysed it quantitatively to classify its spatial distribution objectively, extracting proxies for taxonomic identification and further comparison with freestanding soils. In addition, we used blanks to manufacture pounding tools for blind, controlled replication of plant processing. We discovered that stone blanks are in fact environmental reservoirs in which plant remains are trapped by lithobionts, preserved as hardened accretions. Tool use, on the other hand, creates residue clusters; however, their spatial distribution can be discriminated from purely natural assemblages by the georeferencing of residues and statistical analysis of resulting patterns. To conclude, we provide a protocol for best practice and a workflow that has the advantage of overcoming environmental noise, reducing the risk of false positive, delivering a firm understanding of residues as polygenic mixtures, a reliable use of controls, and most importantly, a stronger link between microbotanical remains and stone tool use.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Multidisciplinary
Uncontrolled Keywords:Multidisciplinary
Language:English
Date:22 February 2022
Deposited On:09 Jan 2023 11:41
Last Modified:28 Jun 2024 01:37
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2045-2322
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-06959-1
PubMed ID:35194092
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)