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In the 1960s, archaeologists discovered a horde of intricate stone tools and nearly 600 small stone balls at the 1.4-million-year-old site of “Ubeidiya” in northern Israel.

For decades, scholars have debated whether these plum-sized artifacts – known as spheroids – were intentionally made or the indirect result of making other tools.

Now, a new 3D analysis suggested that early hominins created these stone balls deliberately, Science Magazine reported.

In their paper, researchers explained that the spheroids were found at a site where an ancient human relative and toolmaker, Homo erectus, potentially resided.

They studied 150 of these limestone spheroids using a newly developed 3D analysis software that can measure angles on the surface of a spheroid, calculate the level of surface curvature, and determine the object’s center of mass.

The findings showed that H. erectus intentionally crafted these spheres: Each of the spheroids had a large “primary surface” surrounded by smaller worked planes.

The research team also noted that it was unlikely these artifacts were formed naturally: The Ubeidiya spheroids had rougher surfaces and some were shaped in such a way that they resembled near-perfect spheres.

Natural ones, such as river stones, are smoother in surface and are never truly spherical.

“It appears that hominins 1.4 million years ago had the ability to conceptualize a sphere in their minds and shape their stones to match,” said lead author Antoine Muller. “This takes remarkable planning and forethought, as well as a great deal of manual dexterity and skill.”

Other researchers suggested that the study method can be used to investigate older spheroids found in African sites, which could serve as “a valuable tool” for gaining insight into the minds of ancient craftspeople.

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