Evidence Suggests Humans Have Been Recycling For 13,000 Years

Feel like you’re hip to the new trend of eco-friendliness? Proud of your sophisticated recycling bins and the huge amount of waste you divert from the landfill? It may be novel in a modern society obsessed with consumption, but new research shows that reusing and recycling are nothing new to the human race.

A study from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili and the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) recently found that humans have been reducing waste through recycling for over 13,000 years. The first of its kind study revealed that humans living during the Upper Palaeolithic Age often broke old tools down into their reusable parts and incorporated them in the efficient creation of new tools.

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While investigating burnt remains in the Molí del Salt site (Tarragona), which date back to the end of the Upper Palaeolithic Age, scientists discovered tools that look to have been modified late in their life cycle. These tools were mostly those that saw frequent use in domestic activities, and were thus more likely to break down.

“This indicates that a large part of these tools were not conceived from the outset as double artefacts but a single tool was made first and a second was added later when the artefact was recycled,” write the researchers. The history of the artefacts and the sequence of changes that they have undergone over time are fundamental in understanding their final morphology.

Of course, concepts of waste and reuse were probably far from the mind of the Palaeolithic human. Instead, scientists say recycling was probably an automatic reaction to needs that had to be addressed immediately. Reusing resources meant that these humans did not have to move around to find raw materials to make their tools, a task that could have taken them far away from camp. “They would simply take an artefact abandoned by those groups who previously inhabited the site,” explains Manuel Vaquero, researcher at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog