It appears that about 200,000 years ago, early humans were sitting around the barbecue pit using disposable knives to cut their meat.


Photo by Ran Barkai.
Flint from world’s oldest knife.

Archaeologists digging in a cave in Israel have found what appears to be the world’s first cutlery. They believe that the tiny stone knives dating back at least 200,000 years would have been used to cut meat during a meal.

A large concentration of the knives was found around a central fireplace containing burned animal bones. Previous research has shown that the cave’s early humans cooked their meat, which was mostly deer but also horse or rhinoceros.

Made of flint, the ancient knives are about the size and shape of a quarter, but they have two razor-sharp edges and two dull edges. That would have made them easy to hold between two fingers and safe to wield close to the mouth, says Tel Aviv University’s Ran Barkai, leader of the team responsible for the finding.

Barkai’s team found marks on the tiny utensils showing they had made delicate cuts through soft meat, rather than hacking through bone.

The miniature knives were likely the Stone Age equivalent of disposable tableware, because they probably would have become dull quite quickly, says Harold Dibble of the University of Pennsylvania, who has studied miniature stone tools from another archaeological site.

Barkai reproduced the mini-knives from stones he found in the cave. His colleague Cristina Lemorini of the University of Roma-La Sapienza then tested Barkai’s replicas by cutting up a sheep carcass. The 21st-century versions easily sliced through muscles, skin and tendons.

The finding will be published in the September issue of the journal Antiquity.