Prehistoric humans often get a bad wrap as club-wielding knuckleheads, lumbering along in their tacky animal skin outfits, avoiding hungry saber-toothed cats and baths. But while that may be mostly true, archeologists say that some of our earliest ancestors were wiser than many nowadays in at least one regard -- they knew to recycle.
According to new research from Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution, humans living during the Upper Palaeolithic Age had honed the eco-friendly habit of recycling as far back as 13,000 years ago. Researcher Manuel Vaquero says that discovered stone artifacts from this period show signs of modification, that one tool had been recycled to create an entirely new one.
"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," says Vaquero, to Phys Org. "The two are separated by an interval in which the artefact has undergone some form of alteration."
Stone tools that had been exposed to fire, mostly those with domestic uses, showed the clearest hints of alteration; burnt stones bearing unburned areas seem to evidence an item's before and after transformation -- what it was, and what it was recycled into.
For these prehistoric tool-makers, recycling wasn't based so much on an eco-minded ideology, but more on convenience and efficiency, among other things:
"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 the researcher.
Reusing resources meant that these humans did not have to move around to find raw materials to make their tools, a task that could have taken them far away from camp. "They would simply take an artefact abandoned by those groups who previously inhabited the site."
It really should come as no surprise that at a time in our history as a species when we were more connected with our natural roots, sustainable practices such as a recycling were second-nature. Perhaps we could take a lesson from our great(x650)-grandparents -- after all, they knew a thing or two about how to the most out of the things they used.
And in exchange, we'll forgive them for the graffiti.