History of Recycling Dates Back to Paleolithic
September 21, 2012

Research Says History of Recycling Dates To Our Paleolithic Ancestors

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Although they might not have had pretty symbols and blue buckets to sort their recyclables into like modern humans, a new study shows that humans from the Upper Paleolithic Age recycled their stone artifacts and repurposed them as far back as 13,000 years ago.

The study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, is based on burnt artifacts found in the Moli del Salt site in Tarragon, Spain.  Prehistoric recycling of stone tools has hardly been dealt with due to the difficulties in verifying such practices in archaeological records. This team, however, made of scientists from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili and the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), was able to find some evidence that our prehistoric predecessors may have been greener than previously suspected.

"In order to identify the recycling, it is necessary to differentiate the two stages of the manipulation sequence of an object: the moment before it is altered and the moment after. The two are separated by an interval in which the artifact has undergone some form of alteration. This is the first time a systematic study of this type has been performed," explained Manuel Vaquero, researcher at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain´s Catalonia region.

The Moli del Salt site has a high percentage of burnt remains which date back to the end of the Upper Paleolithic Age which ended some 13,000 years ago. The team chose the burnt artifacts because "they can tell us in a very simple way whether they have been modified after being exposed to fire."

The practice of recycling tools was normal during this time period, the study claims. The practice, however, is not documented in the same way as other types of artifacts. Recycled tools seem to be more commonly associated with domestic activities and immediate needs.

Recycling during the Paleolithic is linked to on-the-fly behavior, meaning simply shaped, quickly available tools were recycled when the need arose rather than systematically. Projectile points and other tools used for hunting were almost never made from recycled materials, unlike double artifacts (those that combine two tools in one item), which were recycled more often.

Vaquero claims that this indicates that many of these tools didn't start out as a double artifact. Instead, one tool was made first and the second added when it was recycled. Uncovering the history of the artifacts and the sequence of changes that they have undergone is necessary to understanding their final morphology.

According to Vaquero, "in terms of the objects, this is mostly important from a cultural value point of view, especially in periods like the Upper Paleolithic Age, in which it is thought that the sharper the object the sharper the mind."

If the behavior of current indigenous populations is considered, it seems that recycling could have been a determinant in Paleolithic Age hunter-gatherer groups.

"It bears economic importance too, since it would have increased the availability of lithic resources, especially during times of scarcity. In addition, it is a relevant factor for interpreting sites because they become not just places to live but also places of resource provision," states Vaquero.

Recycling resources means less movement to find raw materials. They could simply use artifacts abandoned by groups who had previously inhabited a site and repurpose them. Vaquero and his team believe that such practices need to be kept in mind when analyzing the site.

"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."