An ancient method of rope-making can be observed through a four-holed piece of ivory

Archaeologists have discovered a mammoth ivory tool in Hohle Fels Cave, Germany, that provides insight into how Stone Age people made thick, sturdy ropes. The tool has four circular holes containing carved spiral grooves and was made from 15 mammoth ivory pieces recovered from the site. These fragments were among stone tools and other artifacts from Eurasia’s ancient Aurignacian culture, dated to between 35,000 and 40,000 years old. Microscopic wear and plant residue on the tool indicated that it was used for making rope. The researchers conducted rope-making experiments with four-holed replicas made from wood, animal bones, a warthog’s split tooth and bronze. They found that four or five people could generate five meters of strong, flexible rope in 10 minutes. Cattail leaves worked particularly well as rope material.

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These findings do not tie up all the loose ends regarding ancient rope production. “But for the first time,” Conard says, “we have documented artifacts likely used to make rope and demonstrated how they worked.”

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