Stone tools made by our ancient ancestors have been dated to be around 3.3 million years old. Scientists have stated that this is a “new beginning to the known archaeological record.” Scientists now believe that the dawn of culture has been pushed back by 700,000 years.
This is a much earlier sign of human progress than previously known, and well before the first known member of our genus Homo.
Scientists made the discovery in desert badlands near Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya. They pre-date the earliest known fossils of the genus Homo by 500,000 years, and are the oldest artifacts of this kind yet to be discovered.
Stony Brook team finds earliest stone tools:
The discovery is the first evidence that an even earlier group of proto-humans may have had the thinking abilities needed to figure out how to make sharp-edged tools. The stone tools mark “a new beginning to the known archaeological record,” say the authors of the paper that was published in the scientific journal Nature.
“The whole site’s surprising; it just rewrites the book on a lot of things that we thought were true,” said geologist Chris Lepre of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University, a co-author of the paper who precisely dated the artifacts.
The stone artifacts “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,” said lead author Sonia Harmand, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York.
“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. This discovery challenges the idea that the main characters that make us human, such as making stone tools, eating more meat, maybe using language, all evolved at once in a punctuated way, near the origins of the genus Homo,” said Jason Lewis, a co-author from Stony Brook University in New York.
The question of what, or who, might have made the tools remains a mystery, but fossils from around the same period found at the site provide some clues. The skull of a 3.3-million-year-old hominid, Kenyanthropus platytops, was found in 1999 about a kilometer from the tool site, and a skull fragment and tooth from the same species were found just a few hundred meters away, wrote The Guardian.
The tools are barely distinguishable from ordinary rocks. But Harmand, who made the discovery said: “I could immediately see the scars and features characteristic of a knapped stone.”
“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.
“The traditional view for decades was that the earliest stone tools were made by the first members of Homo,” Harmand 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.”
“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.”
“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 site is still under excavation, and it will be interesting to see what they find next.