Fibers twisted together to form string might not sound like bleeding-edge technology. But with string, or cordage, one can make bags, nets, rope and clothing.
Fibers twisted together to form string might not sound like bleeding-edge technology. But with string, or cordage, one can make bags, nets, rope and clothing. We use it to lace our shoes, floss our teeth, suspend bridges, transmit electrical power–the list goes on and on. Naturally, archaeologists have been eager to trace the origins of this pivotal innovation. But doing so is a difficult business because ancient string was made from perishable materials that have mostly been lost to time.
Now archaeologists who have been excavating a rock shelter in France have recovered a fragment of string that could push back the known record of this technology by tens of thousands of years. What is more, the artifact appears to be the handiwork of Neandertals, adding to mounting evidence that our extinct cousins were cleverer than they have been given credit for.
Until recently, the oldest direct evidence of string technology came from a site called Ohalo II in Israel and the famed Lascaux Cave in France. The bits of preserved string found at these sites date to 19,000 and 17,000 years ago, respectively, and were made by early members of our own species. But there were hints that fiber technology might have deeper roots in Homo sapiens culture. Impressions of woven fabric have been found on fired clay from sites in Moravia dating back as far as 28,000 years ago. And ivory artifacts from sites in Germany that may have been used for spinning plant fibers are up to 40,000 years old.