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STARC Researchers Analyse Exceptional 170,000 Year Old Wooden Tools


During the past two weeks STARC researchers (Martina Polig, Svetlana Gasanova and Sorin Hermon) were hosted by the Italian Institute for Prehistory and Protohistory (IPP) in Florence (Italy) in order to study and analyse extraordinarily preserved and unique wooden tools crafted and used by Neanderthals some 170,000 years ago.

The research is being conducted within the framework of the collaborative project VIWA: Visual Imagining for Wooden Artefacts in Paleolithic, led by Dr. Anna Revedin and Dr. Biancamaria Aranguren from the Italian Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape, and in partnership with STARC, under the supervision of Dr. Sorin Hermon, a University of Trento (Italy) team led by Dr. Stefano Grimaldi, and experts from PIN - University of Florence and the Italian Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape.

Poggetti Vecchi is a late Middle Pleistocene site located in central Italy, which preserved the remains of repeated Neanderthal activities, among them the preparation and use of multi-purpose wooden tools, bearing signs of high-levels pyrotechnical knowledge and craftmanship, which probably were part of their daily subsistence tool-kit. Artefacts like wood or bone normally would not be preserved for such a long time, but since the site is located within a thermal area with hot springs, they survived and were brought to light in an excavation in 2012.

The wooden tools that were found in this context are among the oldest pieces ever found in the world and constitute the largest collection of Palaeolithic wooden tools, with 34 individual pieces. The people who made them demonstrate high knowledge of the environment, choosing among the hardest wood to prepare their tools, ability to use fire for shaping them and intentional preparation of areas for their better handling and use.

The VIWA project is aiming to develop a methodology for the study of these objects through non-invasive digital, imaging and analytical means, which is particularly important due to their extreme fragility. For this purpose, high-resolution 3D documentation, UV imaging and a digital microscopy survey were conducted in order to accurately reconstruct the original geometry of these tools, identify their preparation and use marks and assess their possible function.

The project also received wide media coverage from the Italian State TV RAI, featuring it in their successful and nationwide known documentary show “SuperQuark”.