From the dawn of our species to the present day, stone-made artefacts are the dominant form of material remains that have survived to today concerning human technology. The term “Stone Age” was coined in the late 19th century CE by the Danish scholar Christian J. Thomsen, who came up with a framework for the study of the human past, known as the “Three Age System”. The basis of this framework is technological: it revolves around the notion of three successive periods or ages: Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age, each age being technologically more complex than the one before it. Thomsen came up with this idea after noticing that the artefacts found in archaeological sites displayed regularity in terms of the material that they were made with: stone-made tools were always found in the deepest layers, bronze artefacts in layers on top of the deepest layers, and finally iron-made artefacts were found closest to the surface. This suggested that metal technology developed later than stone-made tools.
In at least one part of Stone Age Europe, Neandertals were lords of the rings. Neandertals are close evolutionary cousins of modern humans. Some 176,500 years ago, these ancient folk built large, circular structures, researchers now report. Found on the floor of a cave in southern France, the circles had been built from broken-off mounds of minerals. These natural stone mounds are known as stalagmites.
Long ago, Neandertal groups explored the dark recesses of Bruniquel Cave. There, they assembled stalagmite pieces into complex configurations, reports Jacques Jaubert. He is an archaeologist at the University of Bordeaux in France.
Scientists found two ring-shaped formations and four smaller arrangements. All had been built from stalagmites. The circles are situated 336 meters (1,100 feet) inside the cave.
These ancient constructions were discovered in the early 1990s. However, until 2013, scientists had only limited access to the cave. Jaubert’s team eventually took samples from six stalagmites. They came from the two circular structures. The scientists dated the age of these creations based on the decay of uranium, an element in the samples. Being radioactive, the uranium atoms split into smaller atoms at known rates. With careful measurements and math, scientists can use that knowledge to determine the age of an object like a stalagmite.
Until tomorrow: What you are will show in what you do.