A recent study has revealed that approximately 1.4 million years ago, early human ancestors intentionally crafted limestone stones into spherical shapes. These intriguing artifacts were discovered at the ‘Ubeidiya archaeological site in Israel, raising questions about their purpose and the skill of our prehistoric forebears.
Archaeologists have long pondered whether these tennis ball-sized “spheroids” were deliberately shaped or formed incidentally through repeated stone smashing. New research led by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem now suggests deliberate craftsmanship by our ancestors.
The research team analyzed 150 limestone spheroids dating back to 1.4 million years ago, employing 3D technology to reconstruct their geometry. The findings strongly indicate that these ancient hominins were intentionally striving for perfectly spherical shapes, aspiring to achieve the Platonic ideal of a sphere. Remarkably, during the crafting process, the stones didn’t become smoother but notably more spherical, a departure from nature’s typical pebble-smoothing processes in rivers and streams.
This discovery implies that these early hominins possessed a “mentally preconceived” understanding of their craftsmanship, demonstrating advanced cognitive capacities for planning and execution.
The potential applications of this technique extend beyond ‘Ubeidiya, as it could be used to study even older spheroids, dating back two million years to the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. However, the mystery surrounding the purpose of these spherical creations endures. Theories abound, including their use as tools for extracting marrow from bones or grinding plants, as projectiles, or as symbols of artistry. As Julia Cabanas, an archaeologist from France’s Natural History Museum, aptly puts it, “All hypotheses are possible,” and the true purpose may forever elude our understanding.
While the precise reasons behind the creation of these ancient spheres remain enigmatic, the intentional crafting of these spheroids offers a fascinating glimpse into the cognitive capabilities of our ancient relatives. The study was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science (DOI: 10.1098/rsos.230671).