Friday, May 11, 2012

Azykh Cave and the Acheuleans

The Azykh Cave stands out for a number of reasons. First, it is notable that zykh is an impressive use of consonants all in a row, unless the sometimes y rule applies. Second, the cave, which is located in Azerbaijan, contains some of the remnants of the earliest Neanderthals on the face of the earth and even earlier human species. The cave has a whole bunch of archeological layers, but the excavation of the site in the 1960's was not done very well and some of these layers were mixed up, making it hard to set a firm chronology. However, what is fairly certain is that the remains of a Neanderthal jawbone found in the cave date back to over 300,000 years ago. Considering the fact that Neanderthal man is believed to have inhabited Europe from around 330,000 years ago - 30,000 years ago, the Azykh Cave Man is pretty damn earlier on that spectrum. The cave has produced very few human and pre-human hominid remains, but has been a treasure trove of human and pre-human hominid tools. So unlike the caves at say, Peștera cu Oase or Peștera Muierilor in Romania where human bones were found having been digested by cave bears, this cave seems to have been run by humans or human precursors.

The Neanderthals would have been a part of the wider Mousterian culture that existed for a few hundred thousand years in Europe, but the earlier layers, if the 1960's dig didn't mess everything up would have been from the Acheulean Culture. The Acheulean Culture was an industry of tool making brought forth by Homo erectus species of human ancestry. These Homo erectus tools would have been part of the mode two classification and thus, less refined than the Mousterian, a mode three classification. Mode 2, like the Acheuleans would make tools out of stone (like the earliest Mode 1, Oldowan Culture) and out of bone, antler and wood. The Acheuleans built on the Mode 1 techniques of tool making, but took more pride in their work. They shaped the tools on both sides of the object, which led to better tool-making. The Azykh cave has brought forth a number of tools from this Mode 2 era, dating back possibly to 1.5 million years ago. But this early date is probably deceptive and the earliest precursors to humans probably showed up in Azerbaijan about 1 million years ago. The 500,000 year gap here is our margin of error, more or less. Basically enough room for someone to drive a massive contradicting theory through. Whether the dates are right or not is not that important to me. Because I am basically an History sensationalist and my blog and podcast are akin to the Tabloids, I can suffer a 500,000 year estimate. On more scholarly work we demand much more precise dates. A Neolithic observer would demand a margin of error no greater than 300,000 years. That difference means somebody has made it through their classes and somebody else has not!

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