Thread to the needle : How the people of the Upper Paleolithic used the plants of the Armenian Highlands

(ORDO NEWS) — Plants and their materials used by our distant ancestors are usually poorly preserved. Often we simply do not know what we ate, what we sewed, how people were treated tens of thousands of years ago. The exploration of the Agitu-3 cave reveals the mystery.

Agitu-3 is a basalt cave at an altitude of 1600 meters above sea level in the south of modern Armenia. Homo sapiens lived in it for a very long time: traces of their presence were found in layers dated from 24 to 39 thousand years ago.

Finds from Agitu-3 include stone artifacts, animal remains, bone tools, shell beads, charcoal, pollen, and more. According to modern ideas, one of the main routes of human migration to Asia passed through the Armenian Highlands.

The oldest evidence for this migration dates back to about 1.8 million years ago at the Early Pleistocene site of Dmanisi in Georgia.

The Journal of Human Evolution published the work of an international team of scientists who examined plant DNA from deposits in Agita-3. They identified plant species from the cave and drew conclusions about how our ancestors used them.

Thread to the needle How the people of the Upper Paleolithic used the plants of the Armenian Highlands 2

The cave is 11 meters deep, 18 meters wide and six meters high. It has a special microclimate: the temperature is fairly even throughout the year. Agitu-3 Cave was a dry and stable environment with a more or less stable composition of sediments in all epochs of its existence.

Its deposits consist mainly of silt, clay minerals, volcanic ash, and basalt fragments from the cave ceiling. This greatly contributes to the preservation of traces of human presence, including plant residues.

The authors of the work extracted plant DNA from cave deposits and analyzed them. Plant remains were found in all layers of Agitu-3 stratigraphy.

Since the cave is not too deep, anyone or anything could bring plants into it: man, animals, wind. Therefore, the first task of scientists was to separate those samples that our ancestors used from those that got into the cave without human intervention.

The archeology of the site makes it possible to single out specific layers in which unequivocal evidence of people’s stay in the cave was found.

The authors of the work compared the quantity and diversity of plant remains from these layers with the so-called archaeologically sterile layers (that is, those that do not demonstrate the presence of a person).

Thread to the needle How the people of the Upper Paleolithic used the plants of the Armenian Highlands 3
Cave excavations

The results showed that the deposits contained more plant genetic material during periods of heavy human use of the cave than during periods when people rarely visited it. In other words, almost all of these plants were brought to the cave by people and used in one way or another.

Scientists have been able to identify a total of 43 plant species, and only five of them are unsuitable for human use. Some of these plants have medicinal properties, others can be used as food, flavoring or insect repellent.

Our ancestors who settled in the Armenian Highlands ate plants of two families: Brassicaceae and Amaranthaceae.

The first includes cabbage of all kinds, including wild cabbage, which, most likely, was collected by the inhabitants of Agita-3. The amaranth family ( Amaranthaceae ) is represented by quinoa ( Atriplex sp. ) and goose foot ( Chenopodium sp. ), both of which can be eaten.

In addition, the researchers found plant DNA that can be used as a dye, as well as fibrous species – they are woven into threads. They suggested that the people who lived in the region used the plants to make sewing thread or twine, as well as stringing shell beads.

A few years ago, bone needles with an eye were found in the Agita-3 cave, but then archaeologists took a cautious position: no threads – no sewing.

The conclusions of the new work are unequivocal: the people of the Upper Paleolithic brought plants into their homes from which fiber can be obtained.

The fiber can be woven into a thread, and then dyed. This means that the inhabitants of Agita-3 sewed – and this is no longer an assumption, but a practically proven statement


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