Take a tusk, drill holes, weave a rope – and change the course of history

Scientists have discovered the tool our stone-age ancestors used to manufacture twine – a milestone in technological development

Forty thousand years ago, a stone-age toolmaker carved a curious instrument from mammoth tusk. Twenty centimetres long, the ivory strip has four holes drilled in it, each lined with precisely cut spiral incisions.

The purpose of this strange device was unclear when it was discovered in Hohle Fels cave in south-western Germany several years ago. It could have been part of a musical instrument or a religious object, it was suggested. But now scientists have concluded that it is the earliest known instrument for making rope. And its impact would have been revolutionary.

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