At a recent conference titled “The Origins of Recycling” at Tel Aviv University, evidence was presented suggesting that our prehistoric ancestors were recycling common objects like flint tools hundreds of thousands of years ago—far before “recycling” as we know it came to be.
Drawing parallels between this ancient behavior and the modern environmental movement, a Tel Aviv archaeologist named Avi Gopher used the following example: “Why do we recycle plastic? To conserve energy and raw materials. In the same way, if you recycled flint you didn’t have to go all the way to the quarry to get more, so you conserved your energy and saved on the material.”
Examples of this ancient recycling and reuse include 200,000- to 400,000-year-old flint chips that had been refashioned into primitive knives for eating and discarded flint flakes that were used as the core material for scrapers.
Scientists have a handful of ways to determine whether a tool was recycled or refashioned in any way, one of which is to carefully study the object’s patina, looking for subtle variances in its coloring to discover if a new layer of material had been uncovered years after it was originally made.
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