Rare Collection of Mesolithic Tools Provide Insight into Hunter/Gatherer Life

A beautifully preserved 14,000 year old sickle part of an ancient hunter/gatherer’s prized possessions has just been put on display at the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology at Jordan’s Yarmouk University.  The double bladed sickle, made from two carefully grooved horn pieces fitted with stone bladelets is part of a remarkable set of Mesolithic tools found at a site in Jordan.  The area was inhabited by the Natufian people, early humans that lived in the Mediterranean region, establishing some permanent settlements around water holes but mainly leading a hunter/gatherer existence.

Sometime around 14,000 years ago, one of these ancient people left a wicker or leather bag by the side of a stone round house and although the bag itself has long since perished its contents lay untouched awaiting discovery.  Now archaeologists have excavated the area and published their findings in the scientific journal “Antiquity”.

Although a lot of individual stone age tools and items have been discovered, it is very rare to find a collection, one person’s possessions.  The tools show that these people were well equipped for their hunter/gatherer lifestyle.

Describing the contents of the bag for journalists, Phillip Edwards, senior lecturer in the Archaeology programme at Melbourne’s La Trobe University (Victoria, Australia); stated that the tools indicate that this person hunted but also used some tools for gathering wild plant food.

The tools consist of a sickle for harvesting the wild cereals that grew in the region (wheat and barley), a cluster of flint spearheads and a larger piece of flint and a big stone (perhaps for striking more spearheads from the large flint).  Also included in the tool kit was a set of small, rounded pebbles, perhaps sling shots, a cluster of gazelle phalanges (toe bones) which were used to make decorative beads and part of a second bone tool.

The Ancient Tool Kit

Picture Credit: Discovery Channel

Scientist Phillip Edwards believes that the wicker or leather bag may have had a strap which enabled it to be slung over the shoulder, a bit like a modern handbag or man-bag for that matter.

The discovery, from an archaeological site called Wadi Hammeh 27 in Jordan has yielded a number of finds providing a glimpse into the lives led in this early civilisation.  The bag probably did not have any compartments so to protect these items they were probably wrapped in bark or small pieces of leather to prevent them bashing into each other.

The hunting weapons were used to kill the plentiful game that existed in the area at the time.  These people hunted aurochs (ancient cattle), gazelles, deer, hares as well as tortoises and many different types of bird.  The contents of the bag has led archaeologists to question our understanding of gender roles in early people.  As the bag contains beads and a tool for gathering plant material as well as hunting equipment, the original owner could have been either a man or a woman.

Perhaps the hunting and gathering roles were split up between the genders rather than the more traditional view of women gathering food and the menfolk being the hunters.

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