Recycling in the Palaeolithic

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Recycling is no modern concept: our ancestors were adept at putting old tools to new uses 13,000 years ago, archaeologists in Spain, have discovered. 

In the first study of its kind, and published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the archaeologists were able to take advantage of the unusually high number of re-worked burnt tools that they found at the Upper Palaeolithic site of Molí del Salt in Tarragona.

Manuel Vaquero, a member of the team from Universitat Rovira I Virgilli and the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPES) told CWA: ‘Burnt artefacts are simpler to interpret because retouches made on a burnt artefact are easy to identify: the modified area after burning shows a characteristic greasy lustre. So, two different moments can be distinguished on a burnt artefact: before and after exposure to fire.’

Their research shows that multi-purpose tools – usually intended for domestic purposes – were frequently recycled, while those designed for hunting, like projectile points, were not. This suggests that the multi-purpose tools were probably initially created for a single task but later adapted for others jobs, and that to understand how these artefacts attained their final shape, it is necessary to identify the sequences of changes they underwent.

Reusing lithic resources meant that the inhabitants of such settlements did not have to move around looking for raw material to make tools, but instead could recycle long abandoned artefacts once belonging to previous groups in the region. Says Vaquero: ‘Those populating these areas could have moved objects from where they were originally located. They even could have dug up or removed sediments in search of tools.’

These findings, therefore, will affect future interpretation of Palaeolithic sites that attracted inhabitants not only as places to live but also because they were ready sources of useful material.

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