January 21, 2001
In anthropology, the Paleolithic Period, or the Old Stone Age, is
the name given to the earliest period of human development and
the longest phase of human history, beginning about 2 million
years ago and ending between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago,
depending on geographic location.
The period between 40,000 and
10,000 years ago is called the Upper Paleolithic Period, and our
knowledge of the people of this period is derived from analysis
of fossil remains, and artifacts and fragments of artifacts found
in association with fossils. With radiocarbon dating techniques,
it is often possible to fix the date of any stratum in which
fossils and artifacts are found to within one or two thousand
years, which provides us with a rough calendar for the history of
Paleolithic groups of humans.
One such group is the Gravettian
people, who apparently lived 29,000 to 22,000 years ago in a
region extending from Spain to southern Russia. Now Olga Soffer
et al (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), after detailed
microscopic analysis of clay impressions from two Gravettian
sites in Czechoslovakia, present convincing evidence that these
Gravettian groups not only wove basketry and textiles, but they
also apparently wove nets that were probably used for hunting
The latter evidence comes from the presence of
weaver's knots that are commonly used to make nets of secure
mesh. The idea is that the clay impressions of net fiber patterns
occurred in living quarters while the ground clay was not yet
baked by fire.
This discovery has evidently caused some
excitement in the anthropology community, since the hunting of
small animals with nets was most likely a community effort rather
than the work of individual male hunters, and if this is true,
then our picture of the social structure of these Paleolithic
groups may need to be revised.
QY: O. Soffer, Univ. Illinois Urbana-Champaign (217) 333-0302.
(Science 29 August) (Science-Week 12 Sep 97)
NET HUNTERS / Y CHROM. EVIDENCE / NEANDERTHAL DNA
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