We finally know what the mysterious Ice Age “magic wand” was used for: ScienceAlert

We finally know what the mysterious Ice Age “magic wand” was used for: ScienceAlert

Like the twisted finger of a witch in a fairy tale, a fragmentary ivory artifact recovered from an Ice Age dig site in southwest Germany several years ago is likely to be referred to as sorcerer intention.

Similar items have been discovered across the continent over the past century, all of which invite speculation about their purpose. Ideas, which were transformed into dots pierced with holes, turned into scepters and scepters. Or perhaps Psalms, or mystical symbols of power. Ritual and magic tools.

Nicolas Conard, an archaeologist from the University of Tübingen in Germany, and fellow archaeologist Verle Rotes from the University of Liège in Belgium, are more realistic in their thinking, pointing to the discovery of a stick that was used to weave something. Other than spells.

Now the two researchers have presented a proof-of-concept demonstration that supports their hypothesis.

In 2015, Conard, Ruts and a team of fellow researchers unearthed 13 pieces of worked mammoth ivory from Hohle Fels Cave in the Aach Valley, a 40,000-year-old site already famous for making what is considered the oldest find. Representing a human personality.

The ivory pieces fit together perfectly to form an object measuring 20.4 cm (about 8 inches) long, with four holes wide enough to insert a pencil through. The worked ivory stick has no obvious purpose, at least not at first glance.

However, thanks to its remarkable state of preserved grooves, along with plant fibers sifted from the surrounding soil, Cunard and Roots were confident it was a tool for making one of the Stone Age’s most precious resources – rope.

Close-up images of the grooves around an artifact in Hohl Fels Cave
A) Lochstab dentin, BC) Plant tissue extracted from Lochstab, DK) Grooves surrounding Lochstab holes. (Conard et al., Advancement of science2024)

“This tool answers the question of how rope was made in the Paleolithic, a question that has puzzled scientists for decades,” Roots said in 2016.

While items made of stone, antler and ivory can last through thousands of years, less durable materials such as plant fibers are lost over time.

However, ropes, strings, and twine were vital products in the Paleolithic, and were used to bind and secure everything from packaging to weapons to food to clothing. It is inconceivable that there is not some kind of technology to easily make such materials.

To further clarify that the artefact, along with a second, less-preserved “punched stick” (or Lochstab in German) found downstream from the site at Geißenklösterle Cave, was intended for making ropes, Cunard and Ruts reproduced a Lochstab of their own They put it to the test.

It was clear from the beginning that the stick would not be practical or necessary for making ropes and delicate threads. However, using the holes as a guide, thick ropes of two to four strands can be wound quickly and efficiently.

The researchers tested different materials, including deer sinew, hemp, flax, and nettle, and found that cattail, basswood, and willow fibers gave the best results.

With four to five participants holding a replica of the Lochstab and feeding the threads, the researchers were able to weave 5 meters of high-quality velor rope that was strong and flexible in just 10 minutes.

As with any replication, an experiment cannot prove beyond doubt that the artifacts necessarily served the same purpose, or were used in the same way. Just because an ancient artifact can be used fantastically in some way doesn’t mean it actually was.

Similar objects may also have very different uses, perhaps for stabilizing posts while stabilizing projectile points, or for planing lengths of wood.

Combined with microscopic analysis of Hohle Fels Lochstab grooves and plant fibers at the site, the mystery of how high-quality ropes were produced thousands of years ago may have a solution.

This research was published in Advancement of science.

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