A recently unearthed stone tool kit consisting of hammer stones, anvils, worked cobblestones and other items dates to 3.3 million years ago, predating our genus Homo by over half a million years, according to a new study.
The items, described in the latest issue of the journal Nature, are now the oldest stone tools ever found.
They "show that early humans (essentially proto-humans) used and made stone tools 3.3 million years ago, which is about 700,000 years earlier than the previously earliest known date for early stone tools," Erella Hovers, who authored an accompanying "News & Views" article, told Discovery News.
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Hovers, who is a senior member of the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, added that the other more recent tools were attributed to Homo habilis, aka "Handy Man," whose culture is called the Oldowan. Now it looks like there was a much earlier culture--as of yet unnamed--and that stone tool making was not unique to our genus.
The approximately 149 stone artifacts tied to tool making were found at a site called Lomekwi 3 next to Lake Turkana in Kenya.
"The tools from Lomekwi show a mixture of pounding and flaking activities," Hovers said.
Lead author Sonia Harmand of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University and her team think that the tools could have been used for breaking open nuts or tubers, for bashing open dead logs to get at insects inside, and for other purposes.
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The presence of volcanic ash layers, together with evidence about Earth's magnetic field, allowed the researchers to date the finds. Co-author Dennis Kent explained that Earth's magnetic field periodically reverses itself, and the chronology of those changes has been well documented going back millions of years.
"We essentially have a magnetic tape recorder that records the magnetic field...the music of the outer core," he said in a press release.
Now a key question is: Who made the tools?