Dining with Homo Erectus: Meat Cut and Prepared with Stone Micro-tools

A study conducted by Sapienza, in collaboration with the University of Tel Aviv, sheds new and unexpected light on the production of small stone tools of the Acheulean Culture. The results, which demonstrate a very articulated behavior in the processing of animal carcasses in this ancient community, were published on Scientific Reports

The Acheulean Culture dates back to the Lower Palaeolithic and is characterised by the production of almond-shaped bifacial stone tools, worked symmetrically on both sides. These tools have always attracted the attention of researchers who have used them as perfect candidates for understanding the subsistence strategies of Homo Erectus, direct ancestor of the Neanderthals. 

The production of bifaces and large cutting tools was flanked by the production of flakes and tiny tools that for decades have been ignored by the scientific community as they were considered to be waste products of the main tools being made. At the site of Revadim, in Israel, hundreds of these small flint flakes were discovered in conjunction with bifaces, scrapers and remains of fauna, including elephants.

The research was coordinated by Flavia Venditti Post.Doc Fellow at the University of Tel Aviv (TAU) and member of the Sapienza Laboratory for Technological and Functional Analysis of Prehistoric Manufacts (LTFAPA) direct by Prof. Cristina Lemorini within an international scientific agreement between Sapienza University and TAU.

The traces and residues analyses were conducted with Optical Light Microscopes and SEM on 283 small flakes dating to 300-500,000 years ago to understand their use.

The results of the study, which were published on Nature’s Scientific Reports, reveal that these tiny flakes were not waste products, but rather the results of recycling old abandoned flakes that were used to produce new sharp flakes. Moreover, the microscopic analysis of their use-wear, coupled with a morphological analysis and the chemical analysis of organic residue, reveals that these tools were used for specific and careful activities during the animal carcass processing.

In particular, one hundred and seven flakes clearly revealed signs of use testified by micro-transformations of the flint structure interpreted to be caused by repeated contact with bone and animal tissue. This data has been confirmed by the identification of incredibly well-preserved organic and inorganic residues on the prehistoric tools. The residues (including bone, fat and collagen fibres) were found on 41 flakes and identified via morphologicaland chemical observation through infrared and X-ray analyses conducted in collaboration with the Diet and Ancient Technology Laboratory (DANTE) and the Department of Chemistry at Sapienza University.

“This study,” point out Flavia Venditti and Cristina Lemorini, “reveals how the hominins in Revadim did not waste anything. Old abandoned flakes were collected and recycled as cores for the production of small sharp flakes that were used to butcher animals and obtain the maximum of calories that were necessary for their survival. This lithic production and its peculiar use reflect a complex behaviour which allowed these ancient communities to thrive for thousands of years.”



Animal residues found on tiny Lower Paleolithic tools reveal their use in butchery – Venditti F., Cristiani E., Nunziante-Cesaro S., Agam A., Lemorini C., Barkai R. – Scientific Reports, Nature 9, 1-14 (10 Settembre 2019) DOI


Further Information

Cristina Lemorini -
Department of Antiquities

Flavia Venditti -
Laboratory for Technological and Functional Analysis of Prehistoric Manufacts


Tuesday, 08 October 2019

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