An illustration of an ancient cave. Depositphotos.

Half-a-million-year-old tools discovered in Poland

Tools dating at least some 500,000 years belonging to an extinct ancient human species have been found in a cave in Poland.


Human history continues to be rewritten time after time. This is not a bad thing. It is of paramount importance to learn more about our ancestors and their way of life. The analysis of prehistoric stone tools found in a cave in Poland has recently changed history. Scientists identified the artifacts as some of the oldest ever discovered in the region. Scientists have recently studied objects that were excavated half a century ago in Poland. Among the oldest man-made objects in Poland are the flint tools found in Cave Tunel Wielki more than 50 years ago. Recent analysis suggests the artifacts date back half a million years.

A professor at the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Archaeology is conducting an extensive study examining artifacts and bones found by archaeologists several decades ago during excavations of the Krakow-Częstochowa Upland caves. There is a cave near Ojców called Tunel Wielki. As soon as the excavations were completed, most of the finds were boxed and stored. Researchers have begun conducting thorough analyses in recent years. It has long been believed by scientists that human traces in Cave Tunel Wielki date back only 40 thousand years. As it turned out, these preliminary findings were incorrect.

Thorough Analysis

Researchers from the Warsaw University, the Polish Academy of Sciences, and the University of Wroclaw reexamined artifacts and bones from separate soil layers in the cave. They did this with the help of archaeologists, paleontologists, palaeobotanists, and geologists. As Dr. Kot explained to PAP: “It all started with a remark made by Dr. Claudio Berto, who works on small mammals’ remains. According to him, the species he studied were older than 40,000 years and could date back up to a half million years.” Small bones, primarily the teeth from rodent ancestors, were found with larger remains as well. Paleontologists from Kraków’s Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals PAS and Wroclaw University examined the fossils.

Bones were found that were ancestors of the Mosbach wolf, the cave bear, the cave lion, and the jaguar. It is believed that all of them lived in what is now Poland 450-550,000 years ago. Several flint knives were found in this same layer, as well as 40 flint artifacts, primarily waste from the production of tools. According to Dr. Kot, the items come from the same layer as the bones, which implies that they are very similar in age. Excavations conducted in the cave in 2018 confirmed this assumption. According to them, layers are arranged as described by researchers half a century ago. Additionally, animal bones and production waste were found.”


Bones not processed

The bones of animals are not cut or processed in any way. As a result, they are not derived from hunting animals. Deer, rhinos, and horses were hunted during that period due to their less dangerous nature, according to scientists. It took thousands of years for the layers of soil to accumulate. However, it is unlikely that panthers, bears or lycaons would have had to confront people who had probably settled in the cave only temporarily to get food. It was only in Trzebnica and Rusko in Lower Silesia that equally old flint objects had been discovered up until now, said Dr. Kot.

It is also very rare to find such finds in other parts of Europe. The tools were crafted by a human ancestor called Homo heidelbergensis. He was not our ancestor but one of our other relatives – the Neanderthal, who appeared about 250,000 years ago. The tools crafted by this human ancestor were found among sediments in the cave in Małopolska. There are several reasons why a discovery from Lesser Poland stands out. In the first place, the artifacts were discovered in a cave, according to the researcher. Up until now, in this part of Europe, only open-air sites were known.

Homo heidelbergensis was species that had a much larger browridge, a larger braincase, and a flatter face than older early human species. They were the first species of humans to live in cold climates; their short, broad bodies were likely adaptations to conserve heat. During its existence, it was the first species of early humans to routinely hunt large animals and make use of controlled fire. It was also the first species to create wooden and rock dwellings as a means of shelter.

Surprising find

“We were surprised that people lived in caves in this area half a million years ago since caves were poor places to camp,” said Dr. Not. Moisture and low temperatures would discourage this. Caves, however, are natural shelters. Having a closed space provides a sense of security. There are traces that may indicate that people used fire while staying there, which probably helped to tame these dark and moist places.” She claims that the discoveries from Cave Tunel Wielki represent very rare evidence for the existence of the first people who trekked north of the Carpathians. She added: “For them to have migrated further north is highly unlikely.”


Climate conditions at that time were not much different from those today, but they presented a challenge to people. Dr. Not stated that this is a very interesting aspect of our analysis.” By examining the opportunities for Homo heidelbergensis to survive, we can observe how these adverse conditions influenced his adaptation.” It is hoped that Homo heidelbergensis bones may be discovered in Cave Tunel Wielki. There is no doubt that these will be the oldest human remains to be discovered in Poland. Currently, the oldest known remains are those of a Neanderthal and are over 50,000 years old.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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