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A study of fire-damaged artifacts found at the Molí del Salt site in Spain has found that hunter-gatherer humans of the Upper Paleolithic Age recycled stone tools. The study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, indicates that recycling was an important part of the lithic technology of hunter-gatherers.

“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,” Dr Manuel Vaquero, a researcher at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili and lead author of the study, explained. “The two are separated by an interval in which the artifact has undergone some form of alteration. This is the first time a systematic study of this type has been performed.”

Dr Vaquero’s team collected 1583 retouched artifacts including 199 multiple tools (those that combine two tools within the same item) from the Molí del Salt site, Tarragona, dating back to the end of the Upper Paleolithic Age some 13,000 years ago. “We chose these burned artifacts because they can tell us in a very simple way whether they have been modified after being exposed to fire,” Dr Vaquero said.

The study shows that tools used for hunting, like projectile points for instance, were almost never made from recycled artifacts. However, double artifacts were recycled more often.

“This indicates that a large part of these tools was not conceived from the outset as double art-facts but a single tool was made first and a second was added later when the art-fact was recycled,” Dr Vaquero said. “The history of the artifacts and the sequence of changes that they have undergone over time are fundamental in understanding their final morphology.”

See Manuel Vaquero et al. 2012. Temporal nature and recycling of Upper Paleolithic artifacts: the burned tools from the Molí del Salt site (Vimbodí i Poblet, northeastern Spain). Journal of Archaeological Science, 39: 2785 – 2796

Visit the Museum of The Stone Age: http://www.stoneagetools.co.uk