History Podcasts

3.3-million-year-old stone tools overturn archaeological record, predate early humans

3.3-million-year-old stone tools overturn archaeological record, predate early humans

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Our human ancestors may not have been the first to spearhead new technologies millions of years ago. It would seem other hominins were crafting tools 700,000 years before previously thought. A paper published this week in the journal Nature announces that the oldest stone tools found to date were crafted by proto-humans, marking “a new beginning to the known archaeological record.”

Lead study author Sonia Harmand of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University says that the tools, “shed light on an unexpected and previously unknown period of hominin behavior and can tell us a lot about cognitive development in our ancestors that we can't understand from fossils alone,” according to science news site Phys.org.

Sammy Lokorodi, a fossil and artifact hunter in Kenya's northwestern desert, led the way to the discovery of 3.3 million-year-old tools. Credit: West Turkana Archaeological Project

Fieldwork in fossil-rich West Turkana, Kenya has revealed primitive stone tools dating to 3.3 million years ago. The stones have clear signs of being intentionally manipulated for crushing or breaking open food, or cutting meat of animal carcasses.

The study article challenges the long-supposed theory that the earliest stone tools were crafted by the genus Homo. Based on dating of the soil layer in which the tools were located, the timeline of hominins using such technology needs to be pushed back by 700,000 years. The Homo genus, modern humanity’s ancestors, only emerged around 2.5 million years ago, and the stone tools date back to 3.3 million years, making the finds very significant.

The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopa’ exhibit at Houston Museum of Natural Science featuring a model of “Lucy”, Australopithecus Afarensis. Some researchers believe it’s possible the Turkana stone tools were made by Australopithecus or a contemporary proto-human species. Jason Kuffer/ Flickr

  • Oldest Tools in the World Found at Lake Turkana, Predate Early Humans
  • New study finds ancient humans butchered elephants with stone tools 500,000 years ago
  • Paleolithic weapons factory was a rich source of obsidian tools from 1.4 million years ago

The stone tools have clear indications of purposeful rudimentary engineering. Knapping a stone piece by banging two rocks together produces smaller flakes with sharp edges. These sharp objects were useful for cutting meat off bones or working with plants. The rock pieces possess characteristic marks, indicating they’ve been used in crafting, hunting, some sort of processing, or other uses scientist haven’t discovered yet.

The stone tools were precisely dated by analyzing soil layers around the finds. Chris Lepre of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (back to camera). Credit: West Turkana Archaeological Project

Dating the ancient stone tools is done through various soil tests and by comparing it with other finds in situ.

Phys.org reports that “a layer of volcanic ash below the tool site set a ‘floor’ on the site’s age: It matched ash elsewhere that had been dated to about 3.3 million years ago, based on the ratio of argon isotopes in the material. To more sharply define the time period of the tools, [Chris Lepre, co-author of the paper and geologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University] and Lamont-Doherty colleague Dennis Kent examined magnetic minerals beneath, around and above the spots where the tools were found.

“The Earth's magnetic field periodically reverses itself, and the chronology of those changes is well documented going back millions of years. […] By tracing the variations in the polarity of the samples, they dated the site to 3.33 million to 3.11 million years.”

In addition, human evolutionary scholars have previously thought that the advent of stone tools was linked to, or triggered by, a climate change involving a spread of savannah grasslands, and the subsequent “evolution of large groups of animals that could serve as a source of food for human ancestors,” writes Phys.org. However, animal fossils and carbon isotopes in the soil reveal the area vegetation at the time was already a shrubby, partially forested environment.

  • Stone tool unearthed in Oregon may date back 15,800 years or more
  • Discovery of ancient stone tools in Brazil challenges belief about human arrival in the Americas

The unique Lake Turkana in Kenya is the world’s largest alkaline lake, as well as the world’s largest permanent desert lake. This archaeologically significant area has offered up fossils of major importance in the study of human origins and evolution.

The landscape of fossil-rich Lake Turkana, Kenya. Wikimedia Commons

Pushing the dating back of these ancient stone tools raises questions about who made the first cognitive leap into intentional engineering and tool making. It also has implications for our understanding of the evolution of the human brain. When and how did the shift come about which synchronized brain changes and hand motor skills required for such behavior? Additional finds may challenge our conventions.

Lepre tells The Guardian , “It just rewrites the book on a lot of things that we thought were true.”

Featured Image: Illustration of the species Homo habilis (genus Homo between 2.1 and 1.5 million years ago) shaping a stone tool by “knapping”. Representational image. Credit: Vassar.edu

By Liz Leafloor

Archaeological mystery: Researchers discover tools that predate the first humans

As a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, this site may earn from qualifying purchases. We may also earn commissions on purchases from other retail websites.

  • This incredible discovery pushes the previously known date of handheld tools back by at least 700,000 years
  • The 3.3 million-year-old tools were found in north-west Kenya

A group of American paleontologists discovered a set of carved tools at an archaeological site belonging to the Pliocene, more than 3.3 million years ago.

“Approximately 3.3 million years ago someone began chipping away at a rock by the side of a river. Eventually, this chipping formed the rock into a tool used, perhaps, to prepare meat or crack nuts. And this technological feat occurred before humans even showed up on the evolutionary scene.”

Since early hominids, Homo habilis, appeared hundreds of years later, the discovery is a disturbing enigma: and researchers ask who made these tools?

The discovery took place at the archaeological site of Lomekwi 3, Kenya and according to researchers, it could revolutionize archeology and force history to be rewritten.

This discovery was added to a list of other mysterious discoveries that according to
mainstream archaeology is not possible.

Among the nearly 150 tools found at the archaeological site are hammers, anvils and carved stones that could have been used millions of years ago to open and crack nuts or tubers, and carve the trunks of fallen trees to get insects for food.

According to an article from Nature.com, the Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities.

Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution, and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

“These tools shed light on an unexpected and previously unknown period of hominin behavior and can tell us a lot about cognitive development in our ancestors that we can’t understand from fossils alone. Our finding disproves the long-standing assumption that Homo habilis was the first tool-maker,” said Dr. Harmand, lead author of a paper published in Nature.

“Conventional wisdom in human evolutionary studies since has supposed that the origins of knapping stone tools were linked to the emergence of the genus Homo, and this technological development was tied to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands,” said co-author Dr. Jason Lewis of Stony Brook University.

“The premise was that our lineage alone took the cognitive leap of hitting stones together to strike off sharp flakes and that this was the foundation of our evolutionary success.”

Until now, the oldest stone tools associated with Homo had been dated at 2.6 million years coming from the Ethiopian deposits which were found close to the fossil remains of the first representative of the Homo habilis, named for their unique ability to use their hands to produce tools.

This “first” human industry is called Oldowan. The Oldowan is the archaeological term used to refer to the earliest stone tool archaeological industry in prehistory. Oldowan tools were used during the Lower Paleolithic period, 2.6 million years ago up until 1.7 million years ago, by ancient hominids across much of Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. This technological industry was followed by the more sophisticated Acheulean industry.

One of the main questions raised by the discovery of these stone tools is its authorship. For a long time, anthropologists have thought that our relatives from the Homo genus, a line that leads directly to the Homo sapiens, were the first to develop such tools. But in this case, the researchers do not know who made these extremely old tools which according to mainstream archaeology should not exist.

World’s Oldest Stone Tools Predate Humans

The oldest handmade stone tools discovered yet predate any known humans and may have been wielded by an as-yet-unknown species, researchers say.

The 3.3-million-year-old stone artifacts are the first direct evidence that early human ancestors may have possessed the mental abilities needed to figure out how to make razor-sharp stone tools. The discovery also rewrites the book on the kind of environmental and evolutionary pressures that drove the emergence of toolmaking.

Chimpanzees and monkeys are known to use stones as tools, picking up rocks to hammer open nuts and solve other problems. However, until now, only members of the human lineage — the genus Homo, which includes the modern human species Homo sapiens and extinct humans such as Homo erectus — were thought capable of making stone tools.

Ancient stone artifacts from East Africa were first uncovered at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania in the mid-20th century. Those stone tools were later associated with fossils of the ancient human species Homo habilis, discovered in the 1960s.

“The traditional view for decades was that the earliest stone tools were made by the first members of Homo,” study lead author Sonia Harmand, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York, told Live Science. “The idea was that our lineage alone took the cognitive leap of hitting stones together to strike off sharp flakes and that this was the foundation of our evolutionary success.”

However, there were hints of primitive tool use before Homo habilis. In 2009, researchers at Dikika, Ethiopia, dug up animal bones nearly 3.4 million years old that had slashes and other cut marks, evidence that someone used stones to trim flesh from bone and perhaps crush bones to get at the marrow inside. This is the earliest evidence of meat and marrow consumption by hominins — all the species leading to and including the human lineage after the split from the ancestors of chimpanzees. No tools were found at that site, so it was unclear whether the marks were made with handmade tools or just naturally sharp rocks.

Now, scientists report stone artifacts that date back long before any known human fossils. Until now, the earliest known tools were about 2.8 million years old, the researchers said. The artifacts are by far the oldest handmade stone tools yet discovered — the previous record-holders, known as Oldowan stone tools, were about 2.6 million years old.

“We were not surprised to find stone tools older than 2.6 million years, because paleoanthropologists have been saying for the last decade that they should be out there somewhere,” Harmand said. “But we were surprised that the tools we found are so much older than the Oldowan, at 3.3 million years old.”

It remains unknown what species made these stone tools. They could have been created by an as-yet-unknown extinct human species, or byAustralopithecus, which is currently the leading contender for the ancestor of the human lineage, or by Kenyanthropus, a 3.3-million-year-old skull of which was discovered in 1999 about a half-mile (1 kilometer) from the newfound tools. It remains uncertain exactly how Kenyanthropus relates to either Homo or Australopithecus.

“Sometimes the best discoveries are the ones that raise more questions than provide answers,” study co-author Jason Lewis, a paleoanthropologist at Stony Brook University and Rutgers University in New Jersey, told Live Science. “In any of these cases the story is equally new and interesting. We are comfortable not having all of the answers now.”

The stone tools were discovered in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya, where the arid, rocky terrain resembles a New Mexican landscape.

The artifacts were found next to Lake Turkana in 2011 almost by accident. “We were driving in the dry riverbed and took the left branch instead of the right, and got off course,” Harmand said. “Essentially, we got lost and ended up in a new area that looked promising. Something was really unique about this place, we could tell that this zone had a lot of hidden areas just waiting to be explored.”

By the end of the 2012 field season, excavations at the site, named Lomekwi 3, had uncovered 149 “Lomekwian” stone artifacts linked with toolmaking.

“It is really exciting and very moving to be the first person to pick up a stone artifact since its original maker put it down millions of years ago,” Harmand said.

The researchers tried using stones to knock off and shape so-called flakes or blades — a process known as knapping — to better understand how these Lomekwian stone artifacts might have been made. They concluded the techniques used may represent a stage between the pounding used by earlier hominins and the knapping of later toolmakers.

“This is a momentous and well-researched discovery,” paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood, a professor of human origins at George Washington University, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement. “I have seen some of these artifacts in the flesh, and I am convinced they were fashioned deliberately.”

Analysis of carbon isotopes in the soil and animal fossils at the site allowed the scientists to reconstruct what the vegetation there used to be like. This led to another surprise — back then, the area was a partially wooded, shrubby environment.

Conventional thinking has been that sophisticated toolmaking came in response to a change in climate that led to shrinking forests and the spread of savannah grasslands. Stone blades likely helped ancient humans get food by helping them cut meat off the carcasses of animals, given how there was then less food such as fruit to be found in the forest. However, these findings suggest that Lomekwian stone tools may have been used for breaking open nuts or tubers, bashing open dead logs to get at insects inside, or maybe something not yet thought of.

“The Lomekwi 3 evidence suggests that important evolutionary changes that would later be really important for Homo to survive on the savannah were actually evolving beforehand, in a still-wooded environment,” Lewis said.

“The capabilities of our ancestors and the environmental forces leading to early stone technology are a great scientific mystery,” Richard Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the research, said in a statement. The newly dated tools “begin to lift the veil on that mystery, at an earlier time than expected.”

This discovery also has implications for understanding the evolution of the human brain, researchers said. Toolmaking required a level of dexterity and grip that suggests that changes in the brain and spinal tract needed for such activity could have evolved before 3.3 million years ago.

The scientists are now looking at the surfaces and edges of the tools under microscopes and with laser scans to try to reconstruct how they were used, “and also studying the sediment in which they were found to search for trace elements or residues of any possible plant or animal tissues that could be left on them after use,” Harmand said.

The site is still under excavation, and Harmand said other artifacts could exist from early attempts at knapping.

“We think there are older, even more rudimentary, stone tools out there to be found, and we will be looking for them over the coming field seasons,” he added.

The scientists detailed their findings in the May 21 issue of the journal Nature.

Scientists unearth earliest-known stone tools, 3.3 million years old

Archaeologist Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University holds a 3.3 million-year-old stone tool discovered in Kenya.

Scientists working in Kenya have unearthed the oldest known stone tools, simple cutting and pounding implements crafted by ancient members of the human lineage 3.3 million years ago.

At about 700,000 years older than the other stone tools excavated to date, the discovery hints that anthropologists may have had the wrong idea about the evolution of humans and technology, said Stony Brook University archeologist Jason Lewis, coauthor of a study describing the find published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Traditionally, Lewis said, scientists believed that stone tool-making emerged with the first members of our own large-brained genus, Homo, as they fanned out into savanna grassland environments about 2.5 million years ago.

Until now, the earliest-known stone tools dated back 2.6 million years, bolstering that hypothesis. But the discovery of tools crafted nearly three quarters of a million years earlier — during a period from which no Homo fossils have ever been found — suggests that the story might have played out differently, with human capabilities unfolding over a far longer period of time and with other branches of our family tree playing a more significant role than previously thought.

“We can’t associate this with creatures linked to our genus,” said Erella Hovers, an archeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who was not involved in the study and who wrote an editorial accompanying the research, also in Nature. “Many thought Homo was the only toolmaker. Now that’s a position that’s hard to defend.”

Lewis and study lead author Sonia Harmand, also of Stony Brook University, lead the West Turkana Archaeological Project, an effort spanning two decades that explores northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana basin, a region famous for important fossil finds dating back 2.3 million years.

The newly discovered tools, which the scientists called “Lomekwian” after the Lomekwi 3 site where they were found, are different from so-called Oldowan tools from 2.6 million years ago, Harmand said.

Larger and heavier, they were manufactured using more rudimentary techniques. The team was able to figure out they were 3.3 million years old by studying the rock layers in which the tools were discovered, a standard approach for dating artifacts.

Hovers, who specializes in the study of early stone tools, said archaeologists had long suspected something more ancient than the Oldowan tools existed, because the 2.6 million-year-old artifacts appeared to have been crafted by expert toolmakers who knew what they were doing.

“Everyone had the feeling that these were not the first thing ever,” she said.

It’s unclear what creature made the Lomekwian tools. Lewis said the most likely possibilities were Kenyanthropus platyops (fossils of which have been found nearby) or Australopithecus afarensis (the species famously associated with the fossil known as “Lucy.”) An as-yet-unknown early member of the genus Homo also could have manufactured them.

“In any of these cases, it’d be a surprise,” Lewis said.

Paleoanthropologist William Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University in Tempe, called the discovery “gigantic” because it “breaks up the attractive link we’ve always made between large brains and stone tools.”

He said the vast, 700,000-year gap in time between the Lomekwian and Oldowan tools would present opportunities and challenges to scientists hoping to write the story of stone toolmaking.

“It will depend on finding more artifacts in the right time period,” said Kimbel, who was not involved in the study.

Hovers, who is also affiliated with the Arizona State institute, said that the Lomekwian discovery would help archeologists know what to look for in future searches.

“For people in the field, this provides a good template,” she said. “I can imagine that many of us walked by stuff like this and didn’t realize what it was. Now you’ll bend down and pick it up.”

Harmand said that her team was preparing for its next field season and excavations at the site, starting at the end of June, and would be conducting further analysis on the tools.

They will continue the search beyond, too.

“We think there are older, even more rudimentary stone tools out there to be found,” she said.

For more on science and health, follow me on Twitter: @LATerynbrown

Archaeologists find earliest evidence of stone tool making

Our ancestors were making stone tools even earlier than we thought -- some 700,000 years older. That's the finding of the West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP) team -- co-led by Stony Brook University's Drs. Sonia Harmand and Jason Lewis -- who have found the earliest stone artifacts, dating to 3.3 million years ago, at a site named Lomekwi 3 on the western shore of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

"These tools shed light on an unexpected and previously unknown period of hominin behavior, and can tell us a lot about cognitive development in our ancestors that we can't understand from fossils alone," says Dr. Harmand, a Research Associate Professor in the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) at Stony Brook University. "Our finding disproves the long-standing assumption that Homo habilis was the first tool maker."

The discovery was announced in a paper, 3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya, published on May 21 in Nature. Dr. Harmand, the lead author, says that the Lomekwi 3 artifacts show that at least one group of ancient hominin started intentionally "knapping" stones -- breaking off pieces with quick, hard strikes from another stone -- to make sharp tools long before previously thought.

In the 1930s, paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey unearthed early stone artifacts at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and named them the Oldowan tool culture. In the 1960s they found hominin fossils (in association with those Oldowan tools) that looked more like later humans -- and assigned them to a new species, Homo habilis, handy man.

"Conventional wisdom in human evolutionary studies since has supposed that the origins of knapping stone tools was linked to the emergence of the genus Homo, and this technological development was tied to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands," says Dr. Lewis, a Research Assistant Professor at TBI. "The premise was that our lineage alone took the cognitive leap of hitting stones together to strike off sharp flakes, and that this was the foundation of our evolutionary success."

But a series of papers published in early 2015 have solidified an emerging paradigm shift in paleoanthropology -- Australopithecus africanus and other Pleistocene hominins, traditionally considered not to have made stone tools, have a human-like trabecular bone pattern in their hand bones consistent with stone tool knapping and use.

Credit getting lost for the find. One day in the field, Drs. Harmand and Lewis and their team accidently followed the wrong dry riverbed -- the only way of navigating these remote desert badlands -- and were scanning the landscape for a way back to the main channel. Local Turkana tribesman Sammy Lokorodi helped them spot the stone tools.

"The tools are much larger than later Oldowan tools, and we can see from the scars left on them when they were being made that the techniques used were more rudimentary, requiring holding the stone in two hands or resting the stone on an anvil when hitting it with a hammerstone," Dr. Harmand says. "Some of the gestures involved are reminiscent of those used by chimpanzees when they use stones to break open nuts."

The study of the Lomekwi 3 artifacts suggest they could represent a transitional technological stage -- a missing link -- between the pounding-oriented stone tool use of a more ancestral hominin and the flaking-oriented knapping of later, Oldowan toolmakers.

"The site at Lomekwi provides an ideal window into early hominin behavior across an ancient landscape. The exposures of sedimentary strata there allow us to place these activities in a detailed environmental context, and to tightly constrain their age" notes geologist Craig Feibel of Rutgers University, a co-author on the study.

The scientists dated the hominin remains by correlating the rock strata where they were discovered with well-known radiometrically dated tuffs (volcanic ash). The tools were studied by Dr. Harmand and her colleague Hélène Roche -- world experts in lithic analysis, the study of stone artifacts from the various Stone Age periods in which they were made -- to interpret physical features and reconstruct the manufacturing techniques used at the prehistoric site, including experimental replication of the tools.

Drs. Harmand and Lewis co-directed the fieldwork and analysis of the findings as part of an international, multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists, paleoanthropologists there are 19 other co-authors on the paper.

The Turkana Basin Institute is a privately funded, non-profit initiative founded by Richard Leakey and Stony Brook University, with a primary research focus on human prehistory and related earth and natural science studies. TBI provides permanent scientific facilities and logistical support to conduct fieldwork and research in the challenging remote environment of sub-Saharan Africa. It's committed to safeguarding the extensive fossil deposits in the region through engagement with local communities, and works with the National Museums of Kenya in scientific institutional partnerships.

Dr. Lewis wanted to be a paleoanthropologist working in East Africa since he was 13, when he read a book about the famous Lucy skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis. Dr. Harmand has always been impassioned about the quest for our origins, and the role of tools in cognitive evolution. She wanted to work in the Cradle of Humankind, where the first chapters of the human story are preserved.

"I have no doubt that these aren't the very first tools that hominins made," says Dr. Harmand, who in addition to her position at Stony Brook is a researcher at France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. "They show that the knappers already had an understanding of how stones can be intentionally broken, beyond what the first hominin who accidentally hit two stones together and produced a sharp flake would have had. I think there are older, even more primitive artifacts out there."

"The paper by Harmand et al describes a truly pathbreaking discovery, and moves the date of the earliest flaked stone artifacts back by almost 3/4 of a million years. In addition, the careful documentation of the Lomekwi flaking techniques in this and forthcoming papers shows them as more primitive than those seen within the time range of Homo. This reaffirms the argument that the repeated and competent manufacture of useful sharp edges, on which we came to depend, may have been a driving factor in the evolution of our genus, both anatomically and cognitively.

"It also confirms an assertion we made in a 2002 paper ["Older than the Oldowan," Panger et al. Evolutionary Anthropology] that the oldest Oldowan artifacts at 2.5+0.15 Ma were too sophisticated to represent the dawn of human technology. Harmand's paper raises questions about who the earliest stone tool makers were -- was Kenyanthropus platyops found nearby in the same time range actually the precursor to Homo as its discoverers suggested? Stay tuned." Alison Brooks, Professor of Anthropology, Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, George Washington University Research Associate, Human Origins Program, Smithsonian Institution

"The Lomekwi stone tools join cut-mark evidence from Dikika in pushing the origins of stone cutting tools back to almost 3.5 million years ago. This raises new questions about the differences between stone tools made by earlier hominins and those by recent humans. The really interesting scientific question is, 'What pushed early hominins to make stone tools at that place and at that point in time? What were they doing with the tools?'" John Shea, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University Research Associate, Turkana Basin Institute.

Discovery Of World's Oldest Stone Tools Overturns Traditional View Of Early Humans

Archaeologists working in northwestern Kenya say they've unearthed the world's oldest stone tools yet -- and the discovery has thrown them for a loop.

Dating back 3.3 million years, the artifacts push back the archaeological record of tool technology by a staggering 700,000 years. That suggests tools were being fashioned even before the emergence of Homo -- the genus to which Neanderthals and modern humans belong (scroll down for photos).

"This discovery is important because the traditional view for decades was that the earliest stone tools were made by the first members of Homo, both dating to around 2.4 to 2.6 million years ago," Dr. Sonia Harmand, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University and the lead researcher, told The Huffington Post in an email. "The idea was that our lineage alone took the cognitive leap of hitting stones together to strike off sharp flakes and that this was the foundation of our evolutionary success."

(Story continues below slideshow.)

A special feeling. The first tools were discovered by chance in July 2011 during an archaeological expedition in the Nachukui Formation, a rocky outcrop in the desert badlands on the west bank of Kenya's Lake Turkana. The researchers said they had strayed into an area off their intended path, according to a written statement issued by The Earth Institute at Columbia University, but "could feel that something was special about this particular place. By teatime, local Turkana tribesman Sammy Lokorodi had helped [us] spot what [we] had come searching for."

By the end of their excavation, the team had found 149 artifacts at the site, including sharp-edged tools measuring six inches in length and weighing six-and-a-half pounds, as well as flakes that were struck off from the tools and rocks that could have served as anvils.

The researchers dated the artifacts by analyzing the magnetic minerals in layers of rock above, around, and below where the artifacts were found. This paleomagnetism technique is used to date artifacts that don't contain carbon. The minerals act like a sort of "magnetic tape recorder," reflecting the periodic changes in the Earth's magnetic field.

Dr. Alison Brooks, a George Washington University anthropologist who was not involved in the research, called the finds "very exciting" in an interview with Science News. “They could not have been created by natural forces … [and] the dating evidence is fairly solid.”

Next steps. Who made the tools? Scientists aren't sure.

"We can be fairly certain it was a member of our lineage and not a fossil great ape, as modern apes have never been seen knapping stone tools in the wild," Dr. Jason Lewis, an archaeologist at Rutgers Univeristy and one of the researchers who made the discovery, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Which of the members of our lineage it was, however, remains to be determined."

The tool-maker might have been Kenyanthropus platytops, a 3.3-million-year-old hominin whose fossils were found less than a mile from the tools. Other possibilities include: Australopithecus afarensis -- another hominin species that was around at the time, the most famous of which is "Lucy" -- or a hominin of the Homo genus that has yet to be discovered.

"The Lomekwi tools are sophisticated enough that they are likely not from the first time a hominin tried to knap a stone tool," Dr. Harmand said in the email. "We think there are older, even more rudimentary stone tools out there to be found, and we will be looking for them over the coming field seasons."

An article describing the research, "3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya" is to be published in the journal Nature on May 21, 2015.

Stone Tool Discovery Predates Homo Sapiens by Millions of Years

Some staggeringly old stone tools were found in the Turkana region of Kenya, according to a new study out today. They're so old, in fact, that Homo erectus (the species before our own Homo sapiens) wasn't even on the scene when they were made, and wouldn't be for another 1.4 million years.

The 3.3-million-year-old tools were found near Lake Turkana, a region that was once replete with pre-human hominins.The finding pushes back the age of first known stone tool use by at least 700,000 years.

The researchers who made the discovery, Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University and Chris Lepre of Rutgers University, aren't sure who made the tools, though a few ancient hominins could have. Kenyanthropus platytops fossils were previously found at nearby fossil sites decades prior and were dated to around this same era. There's some speculation that it could also be the Australopithecus afarensis or an unknown member of the Homo genus. (The Kenyanthropus platytops was an Australopithecus relative that's little understood from the fossil record, though it displays features associated with both the Australopithecus genus and later Homo species.)

The article was published in Nature, with the abstract remarking that the finding marks a "new beginning to the known archaeological record."

Published on 01/15/2019
CATEGORIES: Journal Article

When did early humans first arrive in the Mediterranean? New archaeological evidence published December 14 in the journal Science and funded in part by The Leakey Foundation indicates their presence in North Africa at least 2.4 million years ago.

This is about 600,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The results, from the Ain Boucherit site in northeastern Algeria, provide new information on a time window involving the earliest representative of the Homo genus.

These discoveries are the result of excavations and intensive investigations performed under the umbrella of the Ain Hanech project since 1992.

Located north of El Eulma city, the area was previously well known for providing stone tools and cut-marked bones dated to about 1.8 million years ago (Ain Hanech and El Kherba sites, see map above), which have been until now the oldest occurrences in North Africa.

In 2006 and 2009, new artifacts were found at Ain Boucherit, a few hundred meters from the other sites. They were distributed in two layers below the previous archaeological findings, suggesting an even older human presence in the area.

The new archaeological finds

Excavations of the lower (known as AB-Lw) and upper (AB-Up) archaeological levels yielded more than 250 stone tools and almost 600 fossil remains.

A wide range of animals was identified, including elephants, horses, rhinos, hippos, wild antelopes, pigs, hyenas, and crocodiles. These animals currently occupy a relatively open savanna type habitat with permanent water nearby, suggesting similar conditions in the past.

The stone tool find includes mostly chopping tools and sharp-edged cutting tools used for processing animal carcasses. Those tools are made of limestone and flint that were most likely collected nearby from ancient stream beds.

They are typical of the Oldowan stone tool technology known from East African sites and dated to between 2.6 million and 1.9 million years ago. But the Ain Boucherit find also shows some subtle variations, in particular with the presence of very peculiar tools of a spheroidal shape whose function remains unknown.

Some of the fossil bones show very specific marks that could not be of natural origin, but rather the result of intentional activity.

Two types were identified. The first were cutmarks made from sharp-edged flakes, suggesting skinning, evisceration and defleshing activities (pictured below). The second include percussion marks made from a hammerstone, suggesting marrow extractions.

These show the use by early hominins of meat and marrow from animals. This is consistent with other studies from broadly contemporaneous East African sites.

Dating the site was quite challenging, but the relative positions of AB-Up (within Olduvai event) and AB-Lw (a few meters below Olduvai) allowed us to derive an age of about 1.9 million and 2.4 million years ago, respectively.

The significance of the discovery

This new discovery modifies our understanding of the timing and diffusion of the Oldowan stone tool technology throughout Africa and outside the continent.

By pushing back by about 600,000 years the earliest occurrence of Oldowan tools in North Africa, the age difference with the oldest East African evidence suddenly becomes relatively small.

This indicates at least a somewhat rapid (or, more rapid than previously thought) expansion of this technology from East Africa, although a multiple origin scenario of stone tool manufacture in both East and North Africa might even be possible.

As a consequence, the first settlements of the southern margin of the Mediterranean area now appear to be much older than their northern counterparts.

The oldest evidence from southern Europe does not exceed about 1.4 million years ago (Atapuerca and Orce sites, in Spain), while the hominin fossils found at Dmanisi in Georgia, at the gates of Europe, are dated to 1.8 million years ago.

Who made these tools?

Since no hominin fossils were found at Ain Boucherit, we can only speculate about the possible makers of these Oldowan stone tools.

The hominin fossil record in North Africa is extremely poor, and there is currently no fossil reported in the age range of Ain Boucherit.

The oldest fossils found in Algeria are dated to about 700,000 years ago. They were found at Tighennif (formerly known as Ternifine, see map above). If their attribution has changed over time (initially Atlanthropus mauritanicus and nowadays Homo erectus or early Homo heidelbergensis depending on the authors), these fossils are too young compared with the Ain Boucherit discoveries to support any kind of connection between the sites.

All the early hominin fossil remains found in the Mediterranean area in association with Oldowan stone tools are significantly younger than Ain Boucherit, by at least 1 million years. The oldest Western European evidence such as the partial mandible found at Atapuerca Sima del Elefante, Spain, and the isolated deciduous tooth from Barranco León, southern Spain, are dated to about 1.2 million and 1.4 million years ago, respectively.

Consequently, the best candidates are most likely to be found in East Africa, despite their geographical distance from North Africa. Several hominins are broadly contemporaneous with Ain Boucherit (a good overview may be found here), including australopithecines and different members of the genus Homo such as Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis or the undefined early Homo from Ledi-Geraru, Ethiopia.

That said, we cannot rule out the possibility that the stone tools at Ain Boucherit come from another hominin species, belonging or not to the genus Homo, that has not been found yet.

We hope our future excavation at Ain Boucherit will give us the opportunity to identify these stone toolmakers.

This research was funded in part by The Leakey Foundation.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The oldest known Oldowan tools have been found in Gona, Ethiopia(near the Awash River), and are dated to about 2.6 mya. [10]

The use of tools by apes including chimpanzees [11] and orangutans [12] can be used to argue in favour of tool-use as an ancestral feature of the hominin family. [13] Tools made from bone, wood, or other organic materials were therefore in all probability used before the Oldowan. [14] Oldowan stone tools are simply the oldest recognisable tools which have been preserved in the archaeological record.

There is a flourishing of Oldowan tools in eastern Africa, spreading to southern Africa, between 2.4 and 1.7 mya. At 1.7 mya., the first Acheulean tools appear even as Oldowan assemblages continue to be produced. Both technologies are occasionally found in the same areas, dating to the same time periods. This realisation required a rethinking of old cultural sequences in which the more "advanced" Acheulean was supposed to have succeeded the Oldowan. The different traditions may have been used by different species of hominins living in the same area, or multiple techniques may have been used by an individual species in response to different circumstances.

Sometime before 1.8 mya Homo erectus had spread outside of Africa, reaching as far east as Java by 1.8 mya [15] and in Northern China by 1.66 mya. [16] In these newly colonised areas, no Acheulean assemblages have been found. In China, only "Mode 1" Oldowan assemblages were produced, while in Indonesia stone tools from this age are unknown.

By 1.8 mya early Homo was present in Europe, as shown by the discovery of fossil remains and Oldowan tools in Dmanisi, Georgia. [17] Remains of their activities have also been excavated in Spain at sites in the Guadix-Baza basin [18] and near Atapuerca. [19] Most early European sites yield "Mode 1" or Oldowan assemblages. The earliest Acheulean sites in Europe only appear around 0.5 mya. In addition, the Acheulean tradition does not seem to spread to Eastern Asia. [20] It is unclear from the archaeological record when the production of Oldowan technologies ended. Other tool-making traditions seem to have supplanted Oldowan technologies by 0.25 mya.

The discovery of stone tools that predate the Oldowan, dated to as early as 3.3 mya (million years ago), at the Lomekwi site in Kenya, was announced in 2015. [21]

This age pre-dates the current estimates for the age of the genus Homo by half a million years, and would fall into the pre-human period, associated with the direct australopithecine ancestors of genus Homo. It is not clear whether the tools of such a "Lomekwian industry" bear any relation to the Oldowan industry. [22]

Manufacture Edit

To obtain an Oldowan tool, a roughly spherical hammerstone is struck on the edge, or striking platform, of a suitable core rock to produce a conchoidal fracture with sharp edges useful for various purposes. The process is often called lithic reduction. The chip removed by the blow is the flake. Below the point of impact on the core is a characteristic bulb with fine fissures on the fracture surface. The flake evidences ripple marks.

The materials of the tools were for the most part quartz, quartzite, basalt, or obsidian, and later flint and chert. Any rock that can hold an edge will do. The main source of these rocks is river cobbles, which provide both hammer stones and striking platforms. The earliest tools were simply split cobbles. It is not always clear which is the flake. Later tool-makers clearly identified and reworked flakes. Complaints that artifacts could not be distinguished from naturally fractured stone have helped spark careful studies of Oldowan techniques. These techniques have now been duplicated many times by archaeologists and other knappers, making misidentification of archaeological finds less likely.

Use of bone tools by hominins also producing Oldowan tools is known from Swartkrans, where a bone shaft with a polished point was discovered in Member (layer) I, dated 1.8–1.5 mya. The Osteodontokeratic industry, the "bone-tooth-horn" industry hypothesized by Raymond Dart, is less certain.

Shapes and uses Edit

Mary Leakey classified the Oldowan tools as Heavy Duty, Light Duty, Utilized Pieces and Debitage, or waste. [23] Heavy-duty tools are mainly cores. A chopper has an edge on one side. It is unifacial if the edge was created by flaking on one face of the core, or bifacial if on two. Discoid tools are roughly circular with a peripheral edge. Polyhedral tools are edged in the shape of a polyhedron. In addition there are spheroidal hammer stones.

Light-duty tools are mainly flakes. There are scrapers, awls (with points for boring) and burins (with points for engraving). Some of these functions belong also to heavy-duty tools. For example, there are heavy-duty scrapers.

Utilized pieces are tools that began with one purpose in mind but were utilized opportunistically.

Oldowan tools were probably used for many purposes, which have been discovered from observation of modern apes and hunter-gatherers. Nuts and bones are cracked by hitting them with hammer stones on a stone used as an anvil. Battered and pitted stones testify to this possible use.

Heavy-duty tools could be used as axes for woodworking. Both choppers and large flakes were probably used for this purpose. Once a branch was separated, it could be scraped clean with a scraper, or hollowed with pointed tools. Such uses are attested by characteristic microscopic alterations of edges used to scrape wood. Oldowan tools could also have been used for preparing hides. Hides must be cut by slicing, piercing and scraping them clean of residues. Flakes are most suitable for this purpose.

Lawrence Keeley, following in the footsteps of Sergei Semenov, conducted microscopic studies (with a high-powered optical microscope) on the edges of tools manufactured de novo and used for the originally speculative purposes described above. He found that the marks were characteristic of the use and matched marks on prehistoric tools. Studies of the cut marks on bones using an electron microscope produce a similar result.

Abbevillian Edit

Abbevillian is a currently obsolescent name for a tool tradition that is increasingly coming to be called Oldowan. The label Abbevillian prevailed until the Leakey family discovered older (yet similar) artifacts at Olduvai Gorge and promoted the African origin of man. Oldowan soon replaced Abbevillian in describing African and Asian lithics. The term Abbevillian is still used but is now restricted to Europe. The label, however, continues to lose popularity as a scientific designation.

In the late 20th century, discovery of the discrepancies in date caused a crisis of definition. Because Abbevillian did not necessarily precede Acheulean and both traditions had flakes and bifaces, it became difficult to differentiate the two. It was in this spirit that many artifacts formerly considered Abbevillian were labeled Acheulean. In consideration of the difficulty, some preferred to name both phases Acheulean. When the topic of Abbevillian came up, it was simply put down as a phase of Acheulean. Whatever was from Africa was Oldowan, and whatever from Europe, Acheulean.

The solution to the definition problem is stated in the article on Acheulean. The difference is to be defined in terms of complexity. Simply struck tools are Oldowan. Retouched, or reworked tools are Acheulean. Retouching is a second working of the artifact. The manufacturer first creates an Oldowan tool. Then he reworks or retouches the edges by removing very small chips so as to straighten and sharpen the edge. Typically but not necessarily the reworking is accomplished by pressure flaking.

The pictures in the introduction to this article are mainly labeled Acheulean, but this is the now false Acheulean, which also includes Abbevillian. The artifacts shown are clearly in the Oldowan tradition. One or two of the more complex bifaces may have edges made straighter by a large percussion or two, but there is no sign of pressure flaking as depicted. The pictures included with this subsection show the difference.

Current anthropological thinking is that Oldowan tools were made by late Australopithecus and early Homo. Homo habilis was named "skillful" because it was considered the earliest tool-using human ancestor. Indeed, the genus Homo was in origin intended to separate tool-using species from their tool-less predecessors, hence the name of Australopithecus garhi, garhi meaning "surprise", a tool-using Australopithecine discovered in 1996 and described as the "missing link" between the genera Australopithecus and Homo. There is also evidence that some species of Paranthropus utilized stone tools. [24]

There is presently no evidence to show that Oldowan tools were the sole creation of members of the Homo line or that the ability to produce them was a special characteristic of only our ancestors. Research on tool use by modern wild chimpanzees in West Africa shows there is an operational sequence when chimpanzees use lithic implements to crack nuts. In the course of nut cracking, sometimes they will create unintentional flakes. Although the morphology of the chimpanzees' hammer is different from the Oldowan hammer, chimpanzees' ability to use stone tools indicates that the earliest lithic industries were probably not produced by only one kind of hominin species. [25]

The makers of Oldowan tools were mainly right-handed. [26] "Handedness" (lateralization) had thus already evolved, though it is not clear how related to modern lateralization it was, since other animals show handedness as well. [ clarification needed ]

In the mid-1970s, Glynn Isaac touched off a debate by proposing that human ancestors of this period had a "place of origin" and that they foraged outward from this home base, returning with high-quality food to share and to be processed. Over the course of the last 30 years, a variety of competing theories about how foraging occurred have been proposed, each one implying certain kinds of social strategy. The available evidence from the distribution of tools and remains is not enough to decide which theories are the most probable. However, three main groups of theories predominate.

  • Glynn Isaac's model became the Central Forage Point, as he responded to critics that accused him of attributing too much "modern" behavior to early hominins with relatively free-form searches outward.
  • A second group of models took modern chimpanzee behavior as a starting point, having the hominids use relatively fixed routes of foraging, and leaving tools where it was best to do so on a constant track.
  • A third group of theories had relatively loose bands scouring the range, taking care to move carcasses from dangerous death sites and leaving tools more or less at random.

Each group of models implies different grouping and social strategies, from the relative altruism of central base models to the relatively disjointed search models. (See also central foraging theory and Lewis Binford)

Hominins probably lived in social groups that had contact with others. This conclusion is supported by the large number of bones at many sites, too large to be the work of one individual, and all of the scatter patterns implying many different individuals. Since modern primates in Africa have fluid boundaries between groups, as individuals enter, become the focus of bands, and others leave, it is also probable that the tools we find are the result of many overlapping groups working the same territories, and perhaps competing over them. Because of the huge expanse of time and the multiplicity of species associated with possible Oldowan tools, it is difficult to be more precise than this, since it is almost certain that different social groupings were used at different times and in different places.

There is also the question of what mix of hunting, gathering and scavenging the tool users employed. Early models focused on the tool users as hunters. The animals butchered by the tools include waterbuck, hartebeest, springbok, pig and zebra. However, the disposition of the bones allows some question about hominin methods of obtaining meat. That they were omnivores is unquestioned, as the digging implement and the probable use of hammer stones to smash nuts indicate. Lewis Binford first noticed that the bones at Olduvai contained a disproportionately high incidence of extremities, which are low in food substance. He concluded other predators had taken the best meat, and the hominins had only scavenged. The counter view is that while hunting many large animals would be beyond the reach of an individual human, groups could bring down larger game, as pack hunting animals are capable of doing. Moreover, since many animals both hunt and scavenge, it is possible that hominins hunted smaller animals, but were not above driving carnivores from larger kills, as they probably were driven from kills themselves from time to time.

A complete catalog of Oldowan sites would be too extensive for listing here. Some of the better-known sites include the following:

Oldest Stone Tools Discovered in Kenya

3.3-million-year-old artifacts reveal primitive ancestors like “Lucy” may have been capable of tool-making.

A trove of stone artifacts uncovered in northwestern Kenya suggests human ancestors were crafting tools 3.3 million years ago—about 700,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The tools, described at the Paleoanthropology Society’s meeting in San Francisco this week, are in the form of flakes—sharp stone fragments that could be used for cutting, as well as the cores from which flakes were struck, and anvils, used to hold the cores during the knapping process. Overall, more than 130 artifacts have been recovered from the site, called Lomekwi 3, said Stony Brook University archaeologist Sonia Harmand, and some of them are quite large, weighing more than 30 pounds.

The origin of tool-making is long-thought to begin only with the appearance of the genus Homo in the fossil record. But the oldest Homo fossils now known are about 2.8 million years old—half a million years younger than the newly announced artifacts from Kenya. This suggests that either ancient australopithecines like “Lucy” had developed stone tool use before Homo evolved, or else older members of the Homo genus have yet to be found.

“I think [australopithecines] would have had the cognitive capabilities to do it, and even though their hands were probably not as dexterous, they probably would have had no problem flaking stone,” says Nicholas Toth, a paleoanthropologist at the Stone Age Institute and the University of Indiana, Bloomington.

What we may be seeing are just little sparks of trying to use stone for some activities, but not perhaps becoming a consistent tradition until the last 2.3 million years or so.

In 2011, Harmand spotted what appeared to be crude stone artifacts littering the ground near Lake Turkana, in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Early excavations revealed artifacts buried beneath the surface as well. In 2012, with National Geographic funding, Harmand returned to continue excavating the site. She discovered that some of the artifacts she and her team found on the surface neatly fit into pieces that were buried in sediments, suggesting that the fragments were part of the same cache.

Paleomagnetic dating of the sediments put the tools’ age at 3.3 million years old. That’s several hundred thousand years before the next-oldest cache of tools, found in Gona, Ethiopia, which dates to roughly 2.6 million years ago. It’s not clear yet which species in particular crafted the Lomekwi 3 tools, but they could be the handiwork of Kenyanthropus platyops, a controversial human relative discovered near Lomekwi 3 in 1998.

That smaller-brained hominins like Lucy may have been using tools is both remarkable—and yet not all that surprising, Toth says. As a comparison, he points to work he’s done with bonobos—African apes that, like common chimpanzees, are closely related to humans.

When given the raw materials for tool-building, bonobos craft tools that look similar to the ones recovered from the Lake Turkana site, Toth says. “So, you can have a small-brained animal with some manual dexterity producing something like that,” he says.

Bonobos, he says, use the flints to cut through cords or membranes, similar to the methods one might use to butcher an animal. “They understand what ‘sharp’ means,” he says.

But whether this recent find marks the ignition point for millennia of tool making, or is just a flash in the pan, isn’t clear yet. “What we may be seeing are just little sparks of trying to use stone for some activities, but not perhaps becoming a consistent tradition until the last 2.3 million years or so,” Toth says.

Watch the video: Teil 1 Die erste Zivilisation (August 2022).