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South African Journal of Science

On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
Print version ISSN 0038-2353


LESNIK, J.  and  THACKERAY, J.F.. The efficiency of stone and bone tools for opening termite mounds: implications for hominid tool use at Swartkrans. S. Afr. j. sci. [online]. 2007, vol.103, n.9-10, pp.354-356. ISSN 1996-7489.

STONE AND BONE TOOL ARTEFACTS HAVE been recovered from Swartkrans cave deposits in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, dated to the early and middle Pleistocene. It has been suggested that bone tools were used for digging up tubers of edible plants, excavating termite mounds, or as multi-purpose tools. Here we present results of experiments on the efficiency of both bone and stone tools for the excavation of modern termite mounds. Efficiency of penetrating a termite mound crust is defined by the total excavated mass of the mound, when controlling for the number of strokes used. We demonstrate that stones of considerable mass are most effective in opening up termite mounds, whereas bone tools are relatively more efficient than stone tools when controlling for mass. The light weight, efficiency, and the nature of polish and wear on some Swartkrans artefacts makes it probable that selected bone tools were being carried by hominids and used for more than one purpose.

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