Friday, April 15, 2011

Was Eurasia a stone's throw for early humans?

Picture this scene: it’s 1.8 million years ago in the southern reaches of the Caucasus Mountains and a powerful feline, an ancestor of the modern jaguar, has just made a kill. The predator retreats to a secluded gully where it can feed on the bloodied carcass at its leisure. Suddenly a volley of rocks rains down, delivering painful blows and forcing the big cat to abandon its dinner and withdraw. Moments later, a band of prehistoric humans scrambles down the gully to claim the prize. Chalk up another victory for the diminutive scavengers whose relatives will one day take over the planet.

The scenario is speculative, but based on evidence unearthed at the Dmanisi excavation site in the Republic of Georgia and presented earlier this month at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Sacramento, California.

Reid Ferring, a geoarchaeologist at the University of North Texas, has championed the idea, which arose from his ongoing interest in the numbers and arrangements of stones found at the dig. The stones or 'cobbles' are intriguing, he says, because they are otherwise nonexistent in the layers of volcanic sediment that encase the ancient site. “There’s no possible way they got there naturally,” he says of the nearly 200 stones he’s studied.

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