Oldest-known fiber materials discovered in Georgia





CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A team of archaeologists and paleobiologists has discovered flax fibers that are more than 34,000 years old, making them the oldest fibers known to have been used by humans. The fibers, discovered during systematic excavations in a cave in the Republic of Georgia, are described in this week's issue of Science.

The flax, which would have been collected from the wild and not farmed, could have been used to make linen and thread, the researchers say. The cloth and thread would then have been used to fashion garments for warmth, sew leather pieces, make cloths, or tie together packs that might have aided the mobility of our ancient ancestors from one camp to another.

The excavation was jointly led by Ofer Bar-Yosef, George Grant MacCurdy and Janet G. B. MacCurdy Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, with Tengiz Meshveliani from the Georgian State Museum and Anna Belfer-Cohen from the Hebrew University. The microscopic research of the soil samples in which numerous flax fibers were discovered was done by Eliso Kvavadze of the Institute of Paleobiology, part of the National Museum of Georgia.

"This was a critical invention for early humans. They might have used this fiber to create parts of clothing, ropes, or baskets—for items that were mainly used for domestic activities," says Bar-Yosef. "We know that this is wild flax that grew in the vicinity of the cave and was exploited intensively or extensively by modern humans."

The items created with these fibers increased early humans chances of survival and mobility in the harsh conditions of this hilly region. The flax fibers could have been used to sew hides together for clothing and shoes, to create the warmth necessary to endure cold weather. They might have also been used to make packs for carrying essentials, which would have increased and eased mobility, offering a great advantage to a hunter-gatherer society.



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