The limestone spheroids of 'Ubeidiya: intentional imposition of symmetric geometry by early hominins?

Antoine Muller*, Deborah Barsky, Robert Sala-Ramos, Gonen Sharon, Stefania Titton, Josep Maria Vergès, Leore Grosman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Spheroids are one of the least understood lithic items yet are one of the most enduring, spanning from the Oldowan to the Middle Palaeolithic. Why and how they were made remains highly debated. We seek to address whether spheroids represent unintentional by-products of percussive tasks or if they were intentionally knapped tools with specific manufacturing goals. We apply novel three-dimensional analysis methods, including spherical harmonics and surface curvature, to 150 limestone spheroids from 'Ubeidiya (ca 1.4 Ma), presently the earliest Acheulean occurrence outside of Africa, to bring a new perspective to these enigmatic artefacts. We reconstruct the spheroid reduction sequence based on trends in their scar facets and geometry, finding that the spheroid makers at 'Ubeidiya followed a premeditated reduction strategy. During their manufacture, the spheroids do not become smoother, but they become markedly more spherical. They approach an ideal sphere, a feat that likely required skilful knapping and a preconceived goal. Acheulean bifaces are currently thought to represent the earliest evidence of hominins imposing a premeditated, symmetrical shape on stone. The intentional production of sphere-like objects at 'Ubeidiya similarly shows evidence of Acheulean hominins desiring and achieving intentional geometry and symmetry in stone.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number230671
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - 6 Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

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© 2023 The Authors.


  • 'Ubeidiya‌
  • Lower Palaeolithic
  • spherical harmonics
  • spheroids
  • stone balls
  • three-dimensional lithic analysis


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