World’s Oldest Stone Tools Discovered in Kenya
Researchers at a meeting here say they have found the oldest tools made by human ancestors—stone flakes dated to 3.3 million years ago. That’s 700,000 years older than the oldest-known tools to date, suggesting that our ancestors were crafting tools several hundred thousand years before our genus Homo arrived on the scene. If correct, the new evidence could confirm disputed claims for very early tool use, and it suggests that ancient australopithecines like the famed “Lucy” may have fashioned stone tools, too.
Until now, the earliest known stone tools had been found at the site of Gona in Ethiopia and were dated to 2.6 million years ago. These belonged to a tool technology known as the Oldowan, so called because the first examples were found more than 80 years ago at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania by famous paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey. Then, in 2010, researchers working at the site of Dikika in Ethiopia—where an australopithecine child was also discovered—reported cut marks on animal bones dated to 3.4 million years ago; they argued that tool-using human ancestors made the linear marks. The claim was immediately controversial, however, and some argued that what seemed to be cut marks might have been the result of trampling by humans or other animals. Without the discovery of actual tools, the argument seemed likely to continue without resolution.
Now, those missing tools may have been found. In a talk at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society here, archaeologist Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University in New York described the discovery of numerous tools at the site of Lomekwi 3, just west of Lake Turkana in Kenya, about 1000 kilometers from Olduvai Gorge. In 2011, Harmand’s team was seeking the site where a controversial human relative called Kenyanthropus platyops had been discovered in 1998. They took a wrong turn and stumbled upon another part of the area, called Lomekwi, near where Kenyanthropus had been found. The researchers spotted what Harmand called unmistakable stone tools on the surface of the sandy landscape and immediately launched a small excavation.