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Monday, 20 April 2015

3.3 million year old stone tools at Lomekwi 3

Archaeologist Sonia Harmand, of Stony Brook University in New York presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society in California.  She said that in 2011, after taking a wrong turn, she and her team spotted a cluster of tools on the landscape, and began to excavate.

The site is now know as Lomekwi 3, just west of Kenya’s Lake Turkana.

Since that initial discovery, the team has unearthed a total of 20 flakes, anvils and cores.  All of the materials were immaculately preserved in sediment, and an additional 130 pieces were found on the surface.

The tools are approximately 3.3 million years old.
Alison Brooks, an anthropologist at George Washington University, agrees with Harmand’s view, saying of the tools that “they could not have been created by natural forces… the dating evidence is fairly solid.”

Before this discovery, the oldest known stone tools were found in Ethiopia and are approximately 2.6 million years old.  In addition, researchers in Ethiopoa discovered animal bones that were 3.4 million years old displaying evidence of cut marks on them, meaning that early human ancestors inflicted these marks using stone tools.

Ethiopian stone tools. Image: PNAS
The origin of tool-making is long-thought to begin with the appearance of the genus Homo at about 2.8 million years. This new evidence potentially 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.

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