Did You Know? Prehistoric Humans Used to Recycle

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A study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili and the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) has found that our prehistoric ancestors just may have been more ahead of the curve than us in one area: Recycling.

Archaeologists who studied the burnt artifacts found in the Molí del Salt site in Tarragona, Spain, have concluded that humans living during the Upper Palaeolithic Age possessed eco-friendly habits as far back as 13,000 years ago. In fact, researcher Manuel Vaquero says that stone artifacts from this period show signs of modification, indicating 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.”

That said, it can be safe to assume our prehistoric ancestors may not have had sustainability or the environment on their minds when they engaged in recycling. Chances are their motives involved convenience and efficiency:

“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.”

This isn’t the only finding archaeoligsts have found regarding the sustainable behavior (or lack thereof) of our forefathers. Archeologists from the Goethe University of Frankfurt an the Main recently found that in the Bronze age, over 3 millenia ago, mankind’s behavior was unsustainable and took a toll on the environment. The archaeologists found entire settlements buried under landslides with man-made causes.

Rüdiger Krause, the leader of the excavation, asserts:

We can prove without a doubt that such catastrophes occurred as a result of human activity. Even the people of the Bronze and Iron ages have intervened in their natural surroundings, and severely exploited it with the limited technological capabilities of their time.

  • Susmita Baral

    Susmita is a writer and editor in the Greater New York City area. In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.

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