A team of archeologists discovered almost by accident the oldest handmade stone tools known to us so far. The extraordinary finding was made near a lake in Kenya, and as for those who wielded the tools, their identity remains a mystery.
The discovery contradicts some of the things the scientists thought knew about early humans. What is most important is that the stone tolls date as back as 3.3 million years, making them about 700,000 years older than any other past discoveries.
“Immediately, I knew that we had found something very special,” explained lead author Sonia Harmand, one of the archeologist who first made contact with the prehistoric technology. “We were driving in the dry riverbed and took the left branch instead of the right, and got off course.” However, the land they found themselves in looked pretty promising, so the team decided to start digging there. It proved to be an inspired decision.
Researchers have been constantly pushing back the estimated date when human ancestors became intelligent enough to start using tools. In light of the recent discovery, the scientific community is starting to rethink its approach, and some experts are now suggesting that the first toolmakers probably even predate the genus Homo.
According to Harmand, who is also an archaeologist at New York’s Stony Brook University, the discovery she and her team made is enough to challenge the traditional approach. She suggests that the discovery of tools was not the key point that shaped the evolutionary success of humans, as they seem to have also been used by older human ancestors, to little effect compared to the traditional beliefs.
The scientific community had already suspected that humans started using tools way back than what existing evidence suggested. For instance, some 2.6 million years old ornamental objects were discovered in Ethiopia a while ago. Although no tools were found among them, researchers presumed the human species must have used something similar to craft the ornaments.
Nonetheless, the stone tools discovered at Lake Turkana in Kenya in 2011 surprised many. Few scientists expected tools to date as back as 3.3 million years ago, but now most of them believe future findings will push the timeline even further behind.
However, there is a downside to the discovery: no one knows who made the tools. The main contenders for the title are Australopithecus – the most likely ancestor of our human lineage – and the Kenyanthropus, whose skull was discovered in 1999 around the same location in Kenya. Both species fit within the timeline, as they are about the same age as the tools.
Image Source: Haaretz