Obsidian tool reveals Palaeolithic networking in the Near East

Chemical analysis of an obsidian tool found in Syria more than 80 years ago and dating back to between 41000-32000 years revealed it was transported more than 700 kilometres during the Palaeolithic.

Obsidian tool from Syria (by Ellery Frahm)

The obsidian tool was fashioned out of volcanic rock from outcrops in central Turkey, possibly near its source. The tool, which could have been used for various cutting and scraping tasks, was then passed from one mobile group to another, perhaps several times, before reaching Syria’s Yabroud II rock-shelter. Along the way, the implement underwent reshaping and resharpening. According to the researchers, the most direct path between the Turkish and Syrian sites stretches about 700 kilometres. But hunter-gatherers meandered, following prey animals and searching for other food. Therefore, Stone Age bearers of the obsidian tool probably travelled considerably farther to reach one of several rock-shelters clustered near what’s now the Syrian town of Yabroud.

Stone Age networks in Near East as found by researchers (by Thomas C. Hauck & Ellery Frahm)

Excavations at the Yabroud sites between 1930 and 1933 yielded the obsidian tool and hundreds of artefacts made from a type of rock called chert found a mere five to 10 kilometres away. Using a portable X-ray device, the researchers determined the chemical composition of the obsidian tool and 230 obsidian samples from known sites throughout southwestern Asia. That let the researchers match the Syrian find to its Turkish source.

(after Ellery Frahm, Thomas C. Hauck & Science News)

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