01 September 2011

The BBC reports that a haul of picks, flakes and hand axes discovered in Kenya are the oldest remains of advanced stone tools yet discovered.

Archaeologists unearthed the implements while excavating mudstone banks on the shores of Lake Turkana in the remote north-west of the country.  Researchers dated the sediments where the tools were found to 1.76m years old. Until now, the earliest stone tools of this kind were estimated to be 1.4m years old and came from a haul in Konso, Ethiopia.

The largest of the tools are around 20cm long and have been chipped into shape on two sides, a hallmark of more sophisticated stone toolmaking techniques probably developed by Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans.The stone tools, made for crushing, cutting and scraping, gave early humans a means to butcher animal carcasses, strip them of meat and crack open their bones to expose the nutritious marrow.

Older, cruder stone tools have been found. The most ancient evidence of toolmaking by early humans and their relatives dates to 2.6m years ago and includes simple pebble-choppers for hacking and crushing. These Oldowan tools, named after the Olduvai gorge in Tanzania, were wielded by our predecessors for around a million years.

The latest collection of stone tools from Kenya belong to a second, more advanced generation of toolmaking. Known as Acheulian tools after a prominent archaeological site in France, they are larger, heavier and have sharp cutting edges that are chipped from opposite sides into the familiar teardrop shape.Most Acheulian stone tools have been recovered from sites alongside fossilised bones of Homo erectus, leading many archaeologists to believe our ancestors developed the technology as an improvement on the Oldowan toolmaking skills they inherited.

Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London and author of a new book The Origin of Our Species, said the latest haul of Acheulian tools were "very crude by the standards of later examples".

Crude or not they are an amazing discovery... to me at least!


Claude said...

It's fascinating! But we should have stopped a while back. I think that we've gone too far. We've been uncivilisating ourselves in the 20th Century.

jams o donnell said...

I feel that way too sometimes Claude

SnoopyTheGoon said...

So, first people who really worked for a living. Cool.

jams o donnell said...

A proto protestant work ethic!

Dragonstar said...

I love all the extra things we keep learning about our distant forebears. Thanks for reporting Jams.

jams o donnell said...

You're welcome dragonstar!