Wooden sickles more than 7,000 years old found in Italy

Archaeologists presented the results of a study of three wooden sickles discovered during underwater excavations at the Early Neolithic site of La Marmotta in Italy. It turned out that these tools were made more than seven thousand years ago from oak and wood belonging to the rose family. Ancient people used resin from pine trees as glue to secure stone liners. This was reported in an article published in the magazine Scientific Reports.

Tools for collecting grain plants appeared long before their domestication. Thus, if the process of transition from an appropriating economy to a producing economy (Neolithization) in several centers of the Fertile Crescent began no later than the 10th millennium BC, then the predecessors of sickles already existed during the maximum of the last glaciation. Several years ago, while exploring the Ohalo II site in Israel, which was a hunter-gatherer-fisher camp on the seashore, archaeologists discovered the remains of composite tools with signs of wear, which are about 23 thousand years old. Dating back to the time of the Natufian culture is a sickle made from a deer antler approximately 14 thousand years ago.

At the beginning of the 7th millennium BC, the first farmers from Anatolia began to penetrate into Greece and the Balkans, who brought with them to the European continent not only ceramics, domestic plants and animals, but also a characteristic set of tools. One of the ancient monuments associated with early European farmers was discovered under the waters of Lake Bracciano, located near Rome. Underwater exploration of the settlement, called La Marmotta, brought a rich collection of finds, among which are objects made of organic materials more than seven thousand years old, for example, five dugout boats (canoes).

Niccolo Mazzucco from the University of Pisa, together with colleagues from Argentina, Germany, Spain, Italy and France, examined three of the best-preserved wooden sickles found during excavations at the Early Neolithic site of La Marmotta. Although underwater excavations of this settlement ceased in 2006, these finds had not previously been published. Radiocarbon dating has shown that the cultural layers of this site date back to approximately 7570–7165 years ago.

The first sickle with nine stone inserts was found in 2000. Its handle measures 8.5 by 1.8 by 1.2 centimeters, and the curved cutting part measures 18.5 by 4.5 by 1.2 centimeters. A second sickle with eight inserts was discovered in 2005. The size of its handle was 18 by 2 by 1.6 centimeters, and the curved blade was 18.2 by 4.2 by 1.2. The third artifact with three inserts was found in 1996. The dimensions of its handle were 9×5.9×1.3 centimeters, and the curved blade – 16.5 by 3 by 1.1. Scientists noted that Neolithic sickles were noticeably shorter in length than those used in historical times. But in this respect they are similar to horn tools about 7500–8200 years old found in Bulgaria.

Microscopic analysis showed that all three sickles showed signs of wear. Apparently, the Neolithic inhabitants of the La Marmotta settlement used these tools to cut plants to the very roots, which is why specific traces remained on the stone inserts. According to scientists, oak wood was used as a raw material for the manufacture of two sickles (Quercus), for another – wood from a taxon from the rose family (Rosaceae). Such raw materials were used at the La Marmotta settlement and for the manufacture of other items. Using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, the researchers determined that all three tools contained resin derived from pine trees (Pinaceae), which served as an adhesive.

A paleobotanical study showed that microfossils of wheat were present on two sickles (Triticum) and barley (Hordeum). This confirms that the tools were used for harvesting. On the third sickle, researchers found an unexpectedly large amount of pollen from plants from the genus Omezhnik (Oenanthe). Several species of plants from this genus are reported to have pharmacological properties and are used as medicinal plants. In addition, these plants have psychoactive effects. It is possible that the pollen found reflects the plant species that were cut with the sickle when it was last used. But this can also be explained by the sedimentation conditions at this site.

Recently on N+1 talked about other studies on the Neolithic era in Europe. Thus, bioarchaeologists have figured out the diet of the first Greek farmers. And paleozoologists found that Balkan herders of the New Stone Age hunted roe deer.

Mikhail Podrezov


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