Archaeology: 3 discoveries that disrupt our vision of the past


The oldest tool in the world, structures at the bottom of a cave, pre-Columbian bones, researchers find and discover… their mistakes.

Like pieces added to a puzzle, archaeological and paleontological discoveries in the 21st century broaden or refine the knowledge of the past. But sometimes they invalidate or contradict what we thought were truths. Scientists do not escape misinterpretations and prejudices. Demonstration with three recent discoveries.

1. The tool before the Homo

Some carved stones, but 700,000 years too soon. In spring 2015, a French team led by the archaeologist Sonia Harmand of the CNRS Announces, at a symposium in the United States, the discovery in Kenya of tools dating back to… 3.3 million years.

However, the earliest known remnants of this type, found in Ethiopia, date back to 2.6 million years. They were naturally attributed to species of the genus Homo, which appeared between 3 and 2 million years. naturally? For paleontologists, this marvel of technology that is the carved stone tool could not be attributed to anyone else. But the discovery of Kenya sweeps this evidence.

3.3 million years ago, we don’t know where the Homo genre was. Was there already? Nothing at the moment proves it. Homo habilis and Homo Rudolfensis, the two oldest known species of Homo (1), would have appeared around 2.4 million years. The australopithecas, on the other hand, were already well present. They appeared more than 4 million years ago (2). Australopithecus, a partially Biped hominid, of which Lucy, 3.2 million year old, is the most illustrious representative, was therefore able to create tools developed before the Homo. A stone in the human garden.

2. very clever Neandertalians

Last may, a new shattering shake the paleo-anthopological community. Constructions developed from stalagmites and discoveries in 1990 in the cave of Bruniquel, in the Tarn-et-Garonne, are dated about…. 176,500 years old! It is an international team that, thanks to a radiochronological method, made this astonishing discovery, revealed on 26 may in the magazine “nature “.

But at that time the modern man (Homo sapiens, that is we) had not yet arrived in France. It will only happen about 45,000 years ago.

These constructions are thus the work of the Neanderthans (more exactly pre-Neanderthal), this species of hominidae appeared in Eurasia about 250,000 years ago (in France from 100,000 years ago) and extinct about 30,000 years ago. The rehabilitation of the Neanderthans had already been in operation for some years.

Tools, habitats, funeral rites… The Neanderthal man was already not the thick brute that was imagined since his discovery in 1856 in the Neander Valley, East of Germany. With the dating of the constructions of Bruniquel, it is discovered able to explore a cave more than 300 meters from its entrance and to make complex structures requiring a sophisticated social organization. 140,000 years before the frescoes of the Chauvet caves, works of Homo sapiens.

3. non-sexist pre-Columbians

It was not a monument to the glory of manhood. The Central tomb of a burial mound at the pre-Columbian site of Cahokia, near the Mississippi, in the United States, contained bones of both men and women, revealed the magazine American Antiquity last April.

In 1967, during the discovery of the remains of this thriving city between 800 and 1,400 after J-C (3), archaeologists found bodies buried in pairs on Pearl beds in shells and surrounded by other remains. The arrangement of the beads around their heads evoked, according to them, the head of a bird.

For the researchers of the years 60, no doubt, this scenography is a representation of the cult of the Warrior and the Superman, this superhero before the hour endowed with magical powers to which the American civilizations gave the appearance of a bird. Based on this interpretation alone, the phallocracy of the Mississippi civilization is established. Except that after a recent review, the pairs of men proved to be made up of men and women!

“We don’t have a system where men are dominant and women relegated. In Cahokia, we have a nobiliary society where relationships between men and women are important, “explained Thomas Emerson, Director of the Illinois State Archeological society (ISAS), responsible for new research.

“Those who saw a cult manifestation of the Warrior made a conflation with other civilizations that appeared hundreds of years later.” The macho have a hard head.

Claire fields

(1) in September 2015, South African researcher Lee Berger announced that he had discovered in a cave in his country a new species of the genus Homo, which he named Homo Naledi. This would be a kind of “missing link” between the genera Australopithecus and Homo. But the bones were not dated. The scientific community is circumspect

(2) the genus Australopithecus would have lived between 4.2 million and 1 million years before our era. The Homo genus would be derived from a particular form of Australopithecus.

(3) cahokia was the largest pre-Columbian city in Northern Mexico and the center of the Mississippi civilization. It was ideally located near the confluence point of the Missouri and Illinois rivers and the Mississippi River. At its peak in the 13Th century, the city counted nearly 40,000 inhabitants. The reasons for its decline and then its abandonment at the beginning of the fifteenth century, before the arrival of the European settlers, remains an enigma.


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