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Stone Age Ancestors In The Philippines Were Skilled Weavers, New Research Shows

Ancient Weaving Techniques Unearthed in Philippines, Pushing Back Evidence by 30,000 Years

Our Stone Age ancestors were weaving baskets and ropes almost 40,000 years ago, according to new research.

Prehistoric tools unearthed in the Philippines bear tell-tale markings of plant technology, say scientists.

It pushes back evidence of plant use by our ancestors by nearly 30,000 years.

Microscopic evidence was identified on flakes dating back 33,000 to 39,000 years. They were dug up at Palawan’s Tabon Cave.

The three artifacts exhibited the same distinctive damage found on tools used by indigenous communities today.

Lead author Professor Hermine Xhauflair, of the University of the Philippines Diliman, said: “Diagnostic use-wear pattern characteristic of thinning plant fibers were determined.

“It is identical to the use-wear distribution observed on experimental flakes used to process rigid plant segments, turning them into supple strips suitable for weaving.”

It suggests cavemen and women made extensive use of bamboo and palm, taking advantage of their flexibility and resistance – just like modern communities today.

Twisting the fibers would create strong ropes to make fishing nets, snares, traps, bows and arrows, clothing, containers for carrying food – and even boats and houses.

Heavy objects could be hauled on ropes and spear points lashed to poles. It was a technological milestone.

The world’s oldest basket found in Israel only dates back around 10,500 years as plant materials are rarely preserved in the archaeological record.

So the technology is often rendered invisible to modern science. In Southeast Asia, the oldest artifacts made of plant fibers are around 8,000 years old.

Rope weaving occurred much earlier than previously thought, the new study indicates. The world’s oldest basket found in Israel only dates back around 10,500 years as plant materials are rarely preserved in the archaeological record. PHOTO BY NOELLE OTTO/PEXELS 

The study in PLOS ONE uncovers the first indirect evidence of its much earlier invention.

It experimentally followed today’s processing techniques and found they left behind the same tiny scars.

Prof Xhauflair said: “The distribution of use-wear on these artifacts is the same as the distribution observed on experimental tools used to thin fibers, following a technique that is widespread in the region currently.”

It aims at turning rigid plant segments into supple strips suitable for weaving and tying by removing the inner fibers.

Most of the time is devoted to a resting percussion with a motion perpendicular to the edge of the tool and longitudinal to the fibers.

Occasionally the same gesture is used to shave the sides of the plant strip. A little nick is sometimes made at one tip of the plant segment and a layer of fibers is detached by hand.

Prof Xhauflair added: “The goal of this activity is to turn hard plant segments into supple strips suitable as tying material or to weave baskets, traps and even boats.

“This study shows early evidence of this practice in Southeast Asia and adds to the growing set of discoveries showing fiber technology was an integral part of late Pleistocene skillset.”

Further study will shed light on how ancient these techniques are, how widespread they were in the past, and whether modern practices in this region are the result of an uninterrupted tradition.

She added: “This study pushes back in time the antiquity of fiber technology in Southeast Asia.

“It means that the Prehistoric groups who lived at Tabon Cave had the possibility to make baskets and traps, but also ropes that can be used to build houses, sailboats, hunt with bows and make composite objects.”

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

Edited by Saba Fatima

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