The mystery of the balls dating back 1.4 million years. Who made them and why?

In 1959, when scientists were working at a 1.4 million-year-old site at Ubaidiya, northern Israel, they were puzzled by the presence of nearly 600 stone spheres only a few centimeters in diameter (between the size of a prune and the size of a prune). Tennis ball) as well as some human bones and thousands of common stone tools, such as hand axes.

UFOs do not appear to have any specific purpose, and have started an unresolved controversy for more than six decades. By the way, this discussion is encouraged by many similar finds at other African and Eurasian sites. Classified as “spheroids”, these rocky orbs often appear in the fossil record, over a wide time period beginning about 2 million years ago and ending about 70,000 years ago.

Is waste being disposed of intentionally or simply involuntarily, from the manufacture of other tools? If it is manufactured, what is its purpose? In fact, these stony orbs appear to have no notable use and many believe they could be debris produced when other tools were made. Or even horses “make” them by repeatedly hitting their hooves on rocky ground.

Now, a team of Israeli and Spanish researchers (from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Catalan Institute of Human Ecology and Social Evolution) have shed some light on the mystery, and although the purpose of spheroids remains unclear, their work seems to confirm that our relatives have made The ancients put these balls on purpose, perhaps not for a practical reason, but for the pure pleasure of creating a symmetrical object.

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3D analysis

Three years ago, in 2020, the same researchers announced that they would study more than a hundred of these strange pieces from Ubaidiya applying new analysis methods. Now the results of this work have just appeared “Royal Society for Open Science”.

To resolve this controversy, the team of scientists developed a new and advanced 3D analysis program capable of measuring angles on the surface of a spherical object, calculating the plane of curvature of the surface and determining the center of mass of the object. Using this software, they analyzed dozens of 3D scans of 150 spheroids from Ubaidiya, where Homo erectus, one of the oldest known tool makers, lived 1.5 million years ago.

The researchers carefully measured the angles of marks on the surface of the spheroids and reconstructed the process by which the craftsmen made them.

Their purpose

According to the authors of the article, there is no doubt that the spheroids were manufactured with every intention. For example, they each have a large “prime surface” flanked by smaller planes, indicating that they were made by first removing a large slice of stone and then carefully cutting the edges of the newly flattened area.

The study excludes that the stone balls may have formed due to natural processes. The researchers theorize that if that were the case, their texture would be smoother, like stones in rivers, which tend to be very smooth due to water erosion, although their shapes are never spherical. On the other hand, the stones found at Ubaidiya have rough surfaces (as would be expected of a handcrafted piece) and some are almost perfect spherical. Something that only a tool maker could create.

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“Apparently – explains Antoine Müller, the first signatory to the study – hominins 1.4 million years ago had the ability to visualize a sphere in their minds and shape their stones to manufacture it. “This requires remarkable planning and foresight, as well as a great deal of ingenuity and manual dexterity.”

Other artifacts from this same period include elegantly crafted stone axes. The authors say the new work, when viewed alongside the spheroids, suggests that early tool makers were already able to appreciate both symmetry and beauty.

Therefore, it is very likely that spheroids had no concrete practical use at all. which would be a sign, at such a remote moment in our evolution, of a mind closer to our own than we thought, capable simply of appreciating the beauty of things.

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