forensics, fun stuff, lithics, news, university, world

Lithics and Lost Limbs

This is Part IV of a series on a short intensive class I did on Lithics.

Q: When was the earliest known successful surgical amputation?

A) 700 years ago

B) 3100 years ago

C) 7000 years ago

D) 31000 years ago


If you chose option C, you were almost correct. Up until recently, the earliest known amputation of a limb was dated to 7000 years ago, courtesy of a Neolithic farmer in France who’d had his arm cut off.

The information has now been updated with a recent discovery. At the time of writing this blog post, the correct answer is Option D.

In 2020, a group of researchers went to a cave in Indonesian Borneo and found a skeleton they named “TB1” with a missing left lower leg.

Image credit: cropped from

They took, dated and analysed it and were astonished. The skeleton was 31000 years old, and the bones in the left leg had been cleanly “obliquely sectioned” ie sliced diagonally, and healed, with no signs of infection.

This showed that the cut was intentional as it ruled out the individual losing their leg by being mauled by a prehistoric animal.

So it suggested that people were practicing amputations in the Late Pleistocene, and had some idea about using plants to prevent infection.

Read about it here!

This story is what I did my assignment on. The task was to analyse and fact-check a media article about lithics.

I must say, before embarking on the homework assignment, I thought it was complete bunk.

A picture of a complete bunk. Image credit: wikimedia

Reasoning: surgery has only been consistently successful since we became aware of germ theory and anti-microbial management; we didn’t discover lenses for magnification until Anton Van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)… and yet we are expected to believe that a prehistoric hunter-gatherer was able to:

“…successfully navigate veins, arteries, nerves, and tissue, and keep the wound clean so that it healed successfully.” Source: (University of Sydney)


Well, after doing the research (as our lecturer intended) you could knock me down with a microlith. The discovery was actually made by a team of archaeologists with different specialist backgrounds (from geophysics and geochemistry to paleopathology) and published in peer-reviewed Nature in September this year.

Which makes it all look pretty darn legitimate.

My mind changed completely as I did the assignment. An interesting bending of reality.

Other fun facts:

• A strong contender for the stone that was used for surgery is obsidian, which is dark and shiny and looks like glass. It is sterile when first cut and extremely sharp – some surgeons today have experimented with it but it’s not FDA approved for actual cutting up of people in 2022.

An obsidian arrowhead from Wikimedia Commons

• Obsidian was mentioned in the media articles/interviews but not the scientific paper. This is likely because the surgery was done on TB1 6-9 years before they died – the surgical scalpel was not buried with them, and so the choice of obsidian is actually speculation not science.

• The other possible reason that TB1 had their leg amputated was as punishment, rather than life-saving surgery. However…

• The authors suggested that TB1 would have needed super careful and an inordinate amount of care by a lot of people as they healed. Also, when they died, they were buried in a careful, respected way. This suggested that they weren’t a social deviant and so punishment was considered unlikely.

• “Stone Age” is really a broad term used by laypeople, and archaeologists actually mean a very specific time in African prehistory when they use these words! But for the purposes of describing TB1’s story to the public, the words “Stone Age surgery” were thrown around a lot.

Link to the original Nature article if you want to have a read.

Surgery! Image credit: pexels.con

And that was my homework!

How are you? Would you have believed that humans were capable of performing surgery 31000 years ago?

fun stuff, journal, lithics, university

Lithics, Line Art & Limericks

An unlucky lithics student named Joan

Couldn’t tell between ice cream and stone

She ran into grief

When she fractured her teeth –

She’d fancied a taste of a Hertzian Cone.

Image credit:

• A Hertzian Cone is a kind of break that happens when you chip a material which fractures conchoidally such as glass, rock, chocolate and frozen toffee (I’m not joking). Link is to the Wikipedia page.

Most people will recognise the above format as the Limerick, popularised by Edward Lear who lived in the late 19th century.

Our class was encouraged to write limericks about Lithics over the week and submit them, and then the teaching staff would collate and judge them over drinks at the student pub (very serious business!).

Anyway, that limerick was the one I was most proud of. The judges preferred another one of mine though – which was among the several poems that got read aloud, and that was nice!

A classmate won a bottle of wine for their funny poem. This, and the fact that someone brought in a surprise cake for the whole class in celebration of a fellow student’s birthday made me feel that this entire experience was really wholesome.

Good times!


I enrolled in a topic on Lithics

But found myself confronted with Physics

So when given a rock, I went straight into shock

And couldn’t record its specifics.

… And recording we did a lot of, for the next few days.

We got into a bit of drawing. There are some specific conventions and methods that archaeologists must follow when drawing stone artefacts – it’s actually more of a technical recording than realism, like a map.

Something that blew my mind: I have done other kinds of drawing AND I did maths to the very end of high school, but somehow I’d never used a set square for drawing before in my life.

I’d always just thought this thing was another kind of ruler. The more you know.

Image credit: dreamstime

So anyway, we got to using those to draw outlines of some artefacts…

Image: mine!

… and adding the conventions – parallel lines for flake scars (where thin bits have come off), and stippled dots for anywhere that’s a rock cortex (ie the outside bit).

Drawing of a flake!

That second poem was tongue-in-cheek. We had a lot of fun and am unbelievably grateful that I enrolled!

Did you know what a set square was?! Do you like limericks/have your own favourite one?


Lithics II

It really pays to read about your topic >1 week before it starts. Sunday morning (6th) before Lithics began, I thought I’d best open the portal to see what was coming up. I saw:



Cue mini-heart attack.

Thankfully they were multiple choice questions, ensuring we would rock up to class with at least a bit of background knowledge, having done prior reading.

So yes, last-last weekend I read up on stone tool manufacture in record time. Did you know that:

• Aboriginal Australians would hunt emus and dingos with stone tools.

Adzes are a stone tool, kind of like the sister tool to the axe (pronounced “ads”, like the annoying things you try and skip before a YouTube video)

• When the adzes wear down after a lot of use they become adze slugs, named so because you get the little sliver left behind and they can indeed resemble a homeless snail

• There are numerous ways you can crack a open a stone by hand and every pathway regarding stone flaking has been modelled and documented and described by physicists (what?*) … because of the angles of fracture can be theta and gamma and so on etc

• …and the previous point is why stone tools will have predictable features compared to an untouched rock sitting around.


On day two we got to recording different kinds of stone tools.

The main takeaway the lecturer wanted us to take away was that recording forms should be able to be stand-ins for people i.e. if you aren’t around to describe a rock, all your notes should be able to point someone else in the right direction.

Document, document, document! I think that really applies in all industries, such as accounting.

Image credit:

Our lecturer wanted us to try recording a mystery item at the start of classes with little/no knowledge, then return at the end of the course and see what the difference was.

I don’t know if I knew what the heck Silcrete was but for some reason I put that down as the raw material for the mystery item.

BTW if in doubt, silcrete (and a lot of volcanic rock) is glittery.

I now think my favourite stone is chalcedony because it was the prettiest thing in class (is that shallow? Oh well.) Some of it looked like frozen cola cola and some of it like frozen white mist.

I should have taken more photos but we were busy recording and I didn’t want to be rude with my phone out. So here’s a stock image.


One more fun fact: if you ever find a stone that’s nice and smooth and suspect that it’s an archaeological artefact purely “because it fits so well in my hand!!!”

…it’s not.

Do you have a favourite kind of stone? Do you know your birth stone? Does life spring up on you sometimes?

*I think physicists are examples of the cleverest people who look at the weirdest things with their time.

lithics, university


I write this post and its series in memory of Ashley L Peterson, who was always so supportive and followed my blogging journey at its inception, just over one year ago. She was an inspiring mental health advocate. Ashley passed away in October. Even though we never met, I always looked out especially for her replies on WordPress and will miss her razor sharp wit and insightful comments.

I have just finished a 5 day intensive class on Stone Tools, over a year after I did the Human Osteology course. It’s surreal, coming one full year and full circle – it was in the same classroom as well.

Fun facts from Day 1:

• Once upon a time before people in Europe knew about other continents, Europeans thought that stone tools found lying around (such as ancient arrowheads) came from angels in heaven shooting at the Devil’s army. This story also convenient accounted for thunderstorms.

Cupid’s Arrow by Walter Crane – different time period but you get the idea. Angel with an Arrow.


• There are three kinds of rock, and they are sedimentary, igneous and metamorphosed (Do most people know this from school? I did not, or had forgotten). Deposited rock, volcanic rock, and pressurised rock, respectively 🌋🗿🪨

• Shaping stone tools is called knapping, which automatically makes it sound like a great activity 💤💤💤

• Sometimes geologists won’t believe archaeologists re: a stone having been knapped. This can sometimes even have implications in court if archaeologists are giving evidence about past human activities in a historical setting. But ultimately, lithic tools have distinct anatomical features that one can pick out, with training.

…which is what I spent the last five days doing!

A picture of knapped quartzite

More to come. Totally blogging this evening in lieu of writing a 2000 word essay that’s due soon, of course.

Box of shiny rocks
fun stuff, world

Old Books on Language

In the last couple of weeks, I have learnt about the existence of three Very Old Books – all of which have an interesting history and share the theme of language. In order of increasing age they are:

I. The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg (~20 years old)

Found this at a second-hand book fair. Outlines how English emerged and evolved from 500AD to present day.

Fun facts:

• Experts in linguistics believe that if you travel to Friesland, Netherlands and listen to the locals talk, you will hear something that closely resembles the ancestor of English.

•Apparently and very importantly, the word ‘cake’ is Old Norse in origin.

• The first English dictionary was A Table Alphabeticall and appeared in 1604. Which brings me to…

II. This tattered dictionary (~32 years)

Almost as old as A Table Alphabeticall me, this was left at our house by a Roommate of Years Past and appeared during a spring clean.

Going through it, I have learnt that a hyponym is a word for something which falls under a broader category (eg a poodle is a hyponym of dog), and that Dunlop is a Scottish cheese. Sounds yum. Maybe some fellow bloggers have tried it?

III. The Voynich Manuscript (~600 years old)

One of the world’s unsolved mysteries. I learnt about this one while traversing an internet rabbit hole. This book is therefore not in my possession, but rather sitting in a library of ye olde manuscripts and books at Yale University.

Image credit: wikimedia commons

You may have heard about it, as it is a famous world mystery. The Voynich Manuscript is a handwritten, hand-drawn handbook and resembles (probably loosely) a Girl Scout’s log of plants and star signs, and written in a weird code, dubbed Voynichese, that linguists and cryptologists have been trying to crack for over five centuries.

The majority of it still remains untranslated, but people have made a tiny bit of progress. I enjoyed the late Professor’s Stephen Bax’s explanations on how how he decoded the word Hellebore, and a few words from there.

This is a very interesting topic to delve into, if you have the time.


Know any fun facts about English/another language? Do you like codes? If you’ve tried Dunlop cheese, would you recommend it, or rather another kind? Have you heard about the Voynich Manuscript? What’s the oldest book you own?

fun stuff, journal

Phones and fun times

Today I snapped this image in an old folks’ home, and thought how funny it was that they’d used the kind with the spinning dials. My parents kept one in the house as a novelty item when I was growing up. In my day (ie 90s), phones had buttons.

By the way, it has dawned on me these last two years that there are five year olds out there who do not recognise landline telephones, by courtesy of their parents only keeping smartphones at home.

I can practically feel the G-force from the speed with which humanity is hurtling toward new technological vistas. Or maybe it’s just existential panic.

☎️ 📞 📲

Anyway, out of interest, I got Googling. According to The Smithsonian, the first evidence of a device for long-distance communication, concocted by a genius/geniuses of centuries past, dates back to 1200-1400 years ago.

The object uncannily resembles the modern day version of two paper cups joined by a string, only this was made of resin-coated gourd and cotton twine. It came from the Chimu empire in Northern Peru.

Here is the Smithsonian article about it!


This is an update regarding two other little story arcs I started in previous blog posts.

• I am still doing working memory training with Dual-N-Back.

Before I began, I thought progressing to some of the levels beyond N=3 sounded impossible… and then I reached them. More than anything, this has boosted my general confidence. I feel less afraid of completing instructions, and probably this forms a big part of doing anything without screwing it up.

At the moment, I am working on maintaining a high accuracy at N=5.

This graph from the app is, for me at least, really interesting to see.

People online complain about how boring N-Back is, but the activity still holds my attention* somehow.

In the last month, I checked my emails a great deal.

In late August, most applicants received an invitation to an interview, or they were sent a rejection letter. Not me! Would you believe that history repeats itself? Thirteen years after the first time it happened, I have been placed on a waitlist** for med school AGAIN.

⬆️ ➡️ 🔃 🔁 🔄 ⚠️

Oh, well.

How are you? Do you have a story about five-year-olds or phones?

Image credit:

*Maybe as I find other areas of my life so tear-inducingly boring, staring at squares and listening to nonsensical strings of letters seems fun in comparison.

**Waitlist for the interview, rather actual school admission.

news, world

Princess Elizabeth’s Speech

Queen Elizabeth II has just passed. She was the world’s second longest reigning monarch.

It feels surreal. In Australia and New Zealand at least, every time someone holds money, we hold an image of her in our hands. Now suddenly a huge part of Commonwealth history has left us.

She seemed like a very sweet person. This was then-Princess Elizabeth’s first speech from 1940. She was sending a message of love and support to children across the Commonwealth, many of whom evacuated, during World War II. She was well-spoken then, and it’s strangely comforting.

Have a listen:

Rest In Peace, Your Majesty.

fun stuff, journal

Working memory workout

This week I am confronting myself! I have a not-so-excellent working memory and I am finally doing something about it.

Working memory is different to long-term (and even short-term) memory for recall. As is described in the book Human Physiology by Lauralee Sherwood, it is like “the erasable blackboard of the mind”. It’s the ability of the brain to contextualise information as it’s coming in, and using that to execute actions immediately/near the same time.

Image credit:

So for example, I can spout silly trivia I learnt at age 10, such as ‘The longest recorded flight for a chicken was 13 seconds.’ = long term memory 🐔

But if someone was, say, giving instructions prior to starting a complicated board game, the verbal directions do not land well. The explanations go over my head, like a record-setting flying chicken. I have to participate in one/more rounds of the game first, then we are good.

I also misplace my keys a lot.


Thankfully, I have discovered that neuroscientists designed a game for training working memory. The game is called N-back.

Basically, there are squares that pop up in a 3×3, like a budget game of Whack a Mole. Except, instead of hitting garden creatures, you hit a button that says Position Match when a square pops up in the same place twice in a row. ❗️This is N=1. Easy.

But then the level gets harder (N=2), and you press if the squares pop up not consecutively, but only after another square pops up (eg if the third square is a repeat of the first).

N, or the number of squares back that you have to remember, becomes +1 if you get 90% right.

Then you have to throw the audio into the mix because the app shouts random letters at you like an audio alphabet soup – you hit Sound Match if it repeated itself too.


It sounds confusing because it is.

When I first tried to Google how to play, it made no sense. I thought, great, I can’t work on my working memory because my working memory isn’t good enough to understand the instructions.

Eventually I found a good app that came with an explanation, and have been trying it for a few days. My initial sense was overwhelmingly I don’t know what I’m doing after N=2.

But today, I noticed I remembered to do things, such as send a text message when usually I might have forgotten. Yay! Whether this is a coincidence, or an upgrade of some brain software, remains to be seen.

I like this app, because it records stats, but there’s a number of them out there.

Here are some cool papers I read.

The first one I found; How it Helps to Improve Post-error Performance; Supporting article.

My study&work life has had some developments … but no conclusions, so I will tell that story when the time is right.


What’s your go-to piece of trivia? Do you enjoy brain training games? Are you someone who loses their keys, or well organised?


Traps and PSA (Post-Subscription Agony)

PSA: In February, I was caught by a mammoth trap.

Of course, I mean this figuratively, and not literally. I did not stumble upon and fall into a 15,000 year old pit designed for the now-extinct fuzzy elephant, †Mammuthus primigenius*. That would have been very exciting, even if leg-breaking. Some researchers did discover these whopping 25m x 1.7m holes in Mexico, as was reported in 2019. Apparently we humans used to hunt them.


No, in February I signed up to a 30 day free-trial to the subscription company Scribd to check out an audiobook. It appears to offer like a gym membership where you pay monthly. Instead of doing exercises and getting buff you can sit on the couch and listen to books and podcasts.

E-library: Like a library but with e.

Shortly after, I cancelled my subscription. Fast forward to now, I noticed that the company has continued to bill me for what I thought was a cancelled subscription.

Subscribers beware

So at first I thought it was my own dumb fault, for not cancelling properly.

But after some digging, it turns out that this is definitely intentional on the part of the company: when you hit ‘cancel’, a confirmation page comes up to let you think you have cancelled, but there are several pages you have to wade through with “Are you sure?” AT THE BOTTOM which you can only see AFTER SCROLLING, after they let you think you’ve cancelled. Which is deceitful.

This interface design for conning money from users falls under dark patterns.

Scribd’s shady practice has been going for several years. I found many comments online angrily complaining about the same thing.

Scribd has a trustpilot rating of a spectacular 1.9/5 (2238 reviews)

Here is someone else’s blog article dated 2015, with another warning four years later.

Here is one Reddit post about it.

Wish I had seen all this earlier! I’m usually alright with doing my homework after some stupid mistakes in my twenties, but fell down a hole this time. Oops! Now passing this information about the modern-day trap on to fellow readers.

Happily, the bank is taking my side – almost as soon as I clicked “dispute transaction”, I received confirmation that a refund was coming (and no pages of ‘Are You Sure!’). This happened immediately outside office hours, which means no bank-human reviewed this dispute. I wonder if Scribd is on a refund list for dodgy charging?

Another good thing is that I signed up via PayPal, so Scribd never saw any card information, and have since removed my card even on there.

Stay safe! Have you truly cancelled your unwanted subscriptions? What’re some of your tips to stay safe online?

* † If you notice this symbol, the “dagger”, next to various species and genuses in Wikipedia, it is used in biology to mean they are extinct.


Pooling some trivia

In my role, I need to know how to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, so I attended a session this week. The cycle is a bit funny ironic: Need to learn CPR -> hope that you never need to use CPR -> wish fulfilled -> forget CPR -> need to learn CPR.

Anyway, some learnings from the session:

• As first responders, you are expected to Send for help. The instructor told us specifically not to say, “call an ambulance” – I guess if a pack of bystanders happened to be tourists from overseas, you waste less time in case they get the number wrong. 🚑🚑🚑

• The correct thing to say is “call 000!” (Or insert locally relevant number). The other number for Australians is 112.

• Nobody has ever been successfully sued for breaking ribs while administering CPR. People have tried, though. Seems a tad ungrateful, doesn’t it?

• Currently, the estimated time it takes for an ambulance to reach a victim/patient in our state is about 40 minutes, which is absolutely terrible.

• Parents can sometimes misjudge their child’s ability to stay safe in a pool – forgetting that swimming lessons might be in warm water, whereas cold water elsewhere gives the child a shock.

A pool. Image from

• The blue-ringed octopus is found near our waters, and despite being tiny creatures, their bite can paralyse the muscles you use for breathing.


No real uni-related things in the last fortnight (and none for a while).

I have recently taken up tutoring some primary school kids, and that’s been fun. Out of nowhere, one child asked me if watermelons float or sink in water. I was completely flummoxed. I told her I would find out for her and come back with an answer next week – (“Do you have a swimming pool?” “No, I meant I’ll look on the internet for you”).

Turns out that:

• Watermelons are buoyant in water.


Hope everyone is well in blog-land.