This quartzite spheroid is from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, and dates to the Oldowan/Acheulean period, ca. 400,000-1.9 million years ago.
This large spheroid is made from coarse quartzite, a commonly-used stone at Olduvai Gorge. The morphology is subangular, with prominent intact ridges, and the artefact can be classified as a subspheroid in Leakey’s system.
The spheroid is curated by the University of Cambridge, Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Accession No. 1931.271.
Oldowan stone-flaking technology is among the oldest in the world, dating from 1.7-2.6 million years ago in the Rift Valley of southern Africa. This Oldowan spheroid is from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and was excavated by Louis Leakey during his fieldwork there in 1931-1932. Oldowan assemblages were first studied and classified by the archaeologist Mary Leakey.
Spheroids occur in Oldowan and Acheulean assemblages in the Rift Valley, North Africa, the Levant, and the Iberian peninsula. Some researchers argue that spheroids were a deliberately-made tool, but others propose that spheroids were ball-shaped multiplatform cores that were then used as hammerstones. Attrition from hammering eventually rounded or removed the flake scars on some of them. Leakey differentiated spheroids—the fully-rounded hammerstones—from ‘subspheroids’ (sometimes called ‘facetted spheroids’) with scars and ridges still clearly visible.
A use-wear and experimental study on spheroids from the site of Qesem Cave in Israel concluded that they were used to smash open bones to extract the marrow. In this case, the spheroids were collected from earlier deposits and re-used. Another experimental study verified that South African spheroids would also have been effective at thrown projectiles. Spheroids are common on later archaeological sites, and are sometimes referred to as ‘stone balls’ or ‘bola stones’. These Holocene tools were used for a myriad of processes, including stone-flaking, food preparation, the processing of metallurgical ores, hammer-dressing stone monuments in Dynastic Egypt, and perhaps even game pieces.