The limestone spheroids of 'Ubeidiya: intentional imposition of symmetric geometry by early hominins?

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Muller, Antoine; Barsky, Deborah; Sala-Ramos, Robert; Sharon, Gonen; Titton, Stefania; Vergès, Josep-Maria; Grosman, Leore
Year of Publication: 2023
Journal: R Soc Open Sci
Volume: 10
Issue: 9
Pagination: 230671
Date Published: 2023 Sep
Publication Language: eng
ISSN: 2054-5703

Spheroids are one of the least understood lithic items yet are one of the most enduring, spanning from the Oldowan to the Middle Palaeolithic. Why and how they were made remains highly debated. We seek to address whether spheroids represent unintentional by-products of percussive tasks or if they were intentionally knapped tools with specific manufacturing goals. We apply novel three-dimensional analysis methods, including spherical harmonics and surface curvature, to 150 limestone spheroids from 'Ubeidiya ( 1.4 Ma), presently the earliest Acheulean occurrence outside of Africa, to bring a new perspective to these enigmatic artefacts. We reconstruct the spheroid reduction sequence based on trends in their scar facets and geometry, finding that the spheroid makers at 'Ubeidiya followed a premeditated reduction strategy. During their manufacture, the spheroids do not become smoother, but they become markedly more spherical. They approach an ideal sphere, a feat that likely required skilful knapping and a preconceived goal. Acheulean bifaces are currently thought to represent the earliest evidence of hominins imposing a premeditated, symmetrical shape on stone. The intentional production of sphere-like objects at 'Ubeidiya similarly shows evidence of Acheulean hominins desiring and achieving intentional geometry and symmetry in stone.

DOI: 10.1098/rsos.230671
Alternate Journal: R Soc Open Sci