Rope making more than 40,000 years old

It seems humans had twine and ropes some 40,000 years ago in the depths of the ice age. They used tools to twist plant material and vines to make rope. And while these would have been indispensable for hunter-gatherers, it also indicates that they must have had bases or “settlements” which they maintained for sufficiently long to bring their “technologies” into play. My image of hunter-gatherers is one where clans and tribes were mobile but spent weeks together at beneficial “bases”. Possibly the beginnings of summer and winter camps.

If they had rope and twine, they had thread. If they had thread, they probably had some form of garments. If they had twine, they had the “technology” for bows and arrows. If they had rope they would also have had the capability to drag heavy weights across primitive rollers.

Speech and counting were also coming into play around 50,000 years ago. Wolves – or some of their less aggressive members – were probably “cooperating” with humans at around this time.

In relative terms, the developments taking place some 50,000 years ago were probably as epoch-making as the changes in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Rope making tool from mammoth ivory from Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany, ca. 40,000 years old. Photo: Copyright University of Tübingen

Rope making tool from mammoth ivory from Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany, ca. 40,000 years old. Photo: Copyright University of Tübingen

Press Release: 

Prof. Nicholas Conard and members of his team, present the discovery of a tool used to make rope in today‘s edition of the journal: Archäologische Ausgrabungen Baden-Württemberg.
Rope and twine are critical components in the technology of mobile hunters and gatherers. In exceptional cases impressions of string have been found in fired clay and on rare occasions string was depicted in the contexts of Ice Age art, but on the whole almost nothing is known about string, rope and textiles form the Paleolithic.
A key discovery by Conard’s team in Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany and experimental research and testing by Dr. Veerle Rots and her team form the University of Liège is rewriting the history of rope.
The find is a carefully carved and beautifully preserved piece of mammoth ivory 20.4 cm in length with four holes between 7 and 9 mm in diameter. Each of the holes is lined with deep, and precisely cut spiral incisions. The new find demonstrates that these elaborate carvings are technological features of rope-making equipment rather than just decoration.
Similar finds in the past have usually been interpreted as shaft-straighteners, decorated artworks or even musical instruments. Thanks to the exceptional preservation of the find and rigorous testing by the team in Liège, the researchers have demonstrated that the tool was used for making rope out of plant fibers available near Hohle Fels. “This tool answers the question of how rope was made in the Paleolithic”, says Veerle Rots, “a question that has puzzled scientists for decades.”
Excavators found the rope-making tool in archaeological horizon Va near the base of the Aurignacian deposits of the site. Like the famous female figurines and the flutes recovered from the Hohle Fels, the rope-making tool dates to about 40,000 years ago, the time when modern humans arrived in Europe. The discovery underlines the importance of fiber technology and the importance of rope and string for mobile hunters and gatherers trying to cope with challenges of life in the Ice Age.

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About ktwop

Scientist, technologist, salesman, manager, executive and now a consultant and author.
This entry was posted in AMH, Origins and inventions and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Rope making more than 40,000 years old

  1. Ken Beattie says:

    It might be useful to show these artifacts to a contemporary weaver who has the knowledge of drop spinning and back strap weaving. note the square hole in the left artifact… as a young boy I watched the Maine fishermen make nets with tools like this. Is the center artifact a pick?

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