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World's oldest tools found near Africa's Lake Turkana

Until now, the record was held by a set of stone tools dated at 2.6 million years old.

By Brooks Hays
World's oldest tools found near Africa's Lake Turkana
The tools were found near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. Photo by AdamPG/CC

SAN FRANCISCO, April 16 (UPI) -- A group of archaeologists say they've uncovered the world's oldest tools. At 3.3 million years old, the newly unearthed tools predate the evolution of modern humans.

Researchers, who presented their findings Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society in San Francisco, said the primitive stone tools were likely made by one of modern man's ancestors, a hominid from the genus Australopithecus.

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"The artifacts were clearly knapped [created by intentional flaking] and not the result of accidental fracture of rocks," lead researcher Sonia Harmand, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York, told the meeting, according to Science Magazine.

Until now, the record was held by a set of stone tools dated at 2.6 million years old, around the time the first evidence of Homo lineages appear. But the new set of tools -- 20 well-preserved flakes, cores and anvils found just three miles west of Kenya's Lake Turkana -- suggest stone tool-making wasn't exclusive to the first fully fledged humans.

"The obvious implication is that stone tools were invented and used by multiple lineages of early hominins," John Hawks, a University of Wisconsin anthropologist who wasn't involved in the discovery, explained on his blog. "Just as there were different styles of body shape and bipedal mechanics among early hominins, there were likely different styles of technical traditions."

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Hawks says the discovery isn't all that surprising, given the fact chimpanzee populations have been shown to use rather complex tool sets, and to occasionally incorporate objects made from stone.

"All hominins added initially was the deliberate flaking of stone to make objects recognizable in the archaeological record," Hawks added. "That is to say, humans have elaborated upon a technical ability that is latent among all the apes."

In 2010, archaeologists reported finding animal bone incisions made by stone blades in Dikika region of Ethiopia. The bones and incisions were found to be more than 3 million years old, and were uncovered near the remains of an Australopithecus child. That discovery was treated with much skepticism, but the latest findings seem to corroborate the fact that stone tool-making isn't the domain of modern man alone.

"With the cut marks from Dikika we had the victim," Zeresenay Alemseged, a paleoanthropologist at the California Academy of Sciences and member of the 2010 research team, told the Independent. "Harmand's discovery gives us the smoking gun."

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