ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY JENNIFER WALSH AT LIVESCIENCE.COM
The axes may have been traded between human groups and would have served as a social cue to others, Mimi Lam, a researcher from the University of British Columbia, suggested in her talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting here on Feb. 18.
“The Acheulean hand ax was standardized and shaped, became exchanged in social networks and took on a symbolic meaning,” Lam said. “My suggestion was that hand axes were the first commodity: A marketable good or service that has value and is used as an item for exchange.”
“Humans are unique in their use of tools,” Lam said. “We make stone tools and the stones are durable and become part of our external environment.” These tools, she added, could have been passed down in family groups or traded with other ancient hominids.
As humans became more intelligent, their tools become more symmetrical. “They became standardized as a result of social norms and also utility. Eventually, over time, hand axes were made special to set them apart,” Lam said. “There was a trend to distinguish these common tools that had a standard shape.”
Examples of hand axes from about 250,000 to 700,000 years ago contain some of these special properties, such as being made of pink rock or rock embedded with fossils. Ancient humans also made large axes that stood out from the crowd.
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Academics from the universities of Southampton and Liverpool are hoping to shed new light on the long-standing debate about whether the change around 4,000BC was due to colonists moving into Britain or if the indigenous population gradually adopted the new agricultural lifestyle themselves.
The experts will be excavating three island groups in the western seaways – the Channel Islands, the Isles of Scilly and the Outer Hebrides – to understand what sailing across this area would have been like in 4,000BC.
Fraser Sturt, from the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, said: “How people changed from hunter-gatherers to agricultural lifestyles is one of the big questions in archaeology.
“We know that the first signs of domestication occurred in the Middle East around 10,000BC and reached France by 5,000BC. However, it appears to be another 1,000 years before Neolithic farming activities reached Britain.
“We are investigating why this happened by looking at changing social practices, possible environmental impacts and the nature of maritime technology and communication.”
Recent archaeological findings, such as French pottery in Scotland, suggest that colonisation from the continent could be one possible explanation for this shift in lifestyle.
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While on the Scottish leg of filming Standing with Stones, Rupert and I came up with a little analogy which we hope illustrates the problems and dangers of interpretation when dealing with our ancient megalithic sites. Templewood – part of the Kilmartin Glen megalithic complex – seemed an ideal spot to slip it in. Hope it makes sense to you!
Hill in Wiltshire school grounds nicknamed Silbury’s little sister revealed as important neolithic monument
For generations, it has been scrambled up with pride by students at Marlborough College. But the mysterious, pudding-shaped mound in the grounds of the Wiltshire public school now looks set to gain far wider acclaim as scientists have revealed it is a prehistoric monument of international importance.
After thorough excavations, the Marlborough mound is now thought to be around 4,400 years old, making it roughly contemporary with the nearby, and far more renowned, Silbury Hill.
The new evidence was described by one archeologist, an expert on ancient ritual sites in the area, as “an astonishing discovery”. Both neolithic structures are likely to have been constructed over many generations.
The Marlborough mound had been thought to date back to Norman times. It was believed to be the base of a castle built 50 years after the Norman invasion and later landscaped as a 17th-century garden feature. But it has now been dated to around 2400BC from four samples of charcoal taken from the core of the 19 metre-high hill.
The samples prove it was built at a time when British tribes were combining labour on ritual monuments in the chalk downlands of Wiltshire, including Stonehenge and the huge ditches and stone circle of Avebury.
History students at the college will now have the chance to study an extraordinary example just a stone’s throw from their classroom windows. Malborough’s Master Nicholas Sampson said: “We are thrilled at this discovery, which confirms the long and dramatic history of this beautiful site and offers opportunity for tremendous educational enrichment.”
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An archaeology group has called for the site of a 3,500-year-old settlement in the Vale of Glamorgan to be protected.
The remains of a Bronze Age village at Bendrick were first uncovered near the Atlantic Trading Estate near Barry in the 1980s.
Archaeology Cymru says the site is rapidly deteriorating due to off-road biking and other activities by people who may be unaware of what is there.
The county council, which owns the land, said it would investigate.
Archaeology Cymru director Karl-James Langford said he first became aware of the significance of the site when working as a volunteer excavating the land 25 years ago.
He said the remains of a Bronze Age roundhouse were still visible today.
But he said with no signs to warn people what was at the site nothing was being done to protect it.
“The destruction is immense. The archaeology has been badly damaged and very soon it will be gone,” he said.
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The Anglesey Rock Art Project recently extended their programme to include excavation and recording of megalithic rock art on a stone at Llwydiarth Esgob Farm. The stone, made from a distinctive localised hornblende picrite, stands within the garden of the farmhouse and was moved there by the noted antiquary Thomas Pritchard at the beginning of the 20th century.