Obsidian handaxe workshop dated 1.2 million years ago found in Ethiopia; remarkable morphological standardization; requires convergent thinking and dexterity; mastery of skills and creative problem solving.
Obsidian is a jet-black volcanic glass which is capable of producing the sharpest blades on Earth. It is also very delicate and dangerous to work with, and is thought to have been mastered by humans during the latter part of the Stone Age. However, a recent discovery at the Melka Kunture archaeological site in Ethiopia has revealed that obsidian shaping techniques were being used as far back as 1.2 million years ago.
Archaeologists unearthed a layer of sediment containing 578 stone tools, all but three of which were crafted from obsidian. The researchers found that the axes were extremely standardized, and that whoever created them had a high level of dexterity and knowledge of the material. This indicates that they had mastered the technique of knapping obsidian and had developed creative problem-solving skills.
The discovery of this ancient obsidian handaxe workshop is the earliest example of its kind, and is the only one ever found from the Early Pleistocene. It shows that the axe makers had developed a high level of skill, and had adapted existing flint knapping techniques to create tools from the more challenging obsidian material. This is an example of convergent thinking, and marks a huge cognitive leap for such an ancient group of humans.
The study, which is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, is an exciting discovery and highlights the remarkable achievements of these Stone Age humans. It is a testament to their creativity and problem-solving skills, and shows that they were capable of producing highly standardized tools from a challenging material, all without any protective gloves.