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Worked “Mode 2” tools from the site with intentional breakage points which point to this sophisticated tool production process arriving in East Asia 300,000 years earlier than previously thought. Source: IVPP / SciTechDaily.

Did Hominids in Asia Use Advanced Tools Much Earlier than Thought?

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A new find in China has potentially rewritten the course of prehistory. Did our hominid ancestors use sophisticated tools in East Asia 300,000 years earlier than thought?

One of the best ways to understand the development of our hominid ancestors is by looking at the tools they used. The increasing sophistication in tool construction and use demonstrates the advancement of the hominid forefathers of  Homo Sapiens, and the type of tools shows us what they were doing in prehistory.

The progress of hominids and tool making is subject to constant revision as we find out more and more about the distant past. And this new discovery does indeed suggest that a hominid species may have been making sophisticated tools hundreds of thousands of years earlier than was thought.

These advanced tools, dated to some 1.1 million years ago, will potentially rewrite the course of prehistory.

Mode 2 Tools in China

The discovery has been made in the Nihewan Basin in China, as part of a project conducted by a joint team led by Prof. PEI Shuwen from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Prof. Ignacio de la Torre from the Institute of History the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). The project, as reported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters and covered in SciTechDaily, concerns the use of what are known as “Mode 2” tools.

Mode 1 “Oldowan” tools are primitive and date back at least 2.9 million years (José-Manuel Benito Álvarez / Public Domain)

Mode 1 “Oldowan” tools are primitive and date back at least 2.9 million years (José-Manuel Benito Álvarez / Public Domain)

The earlier, “Mode 1” or “Oldowan” tools are named for where they were first discovered in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. These tools were simple pebble tools with worked faces, and evidence has been found for their use from between 2.9 million and 1.7 million years ago.

Mode 2 worked tools, by contrast, are fashioned bifacially, with at least two worked faces, and are altogether more sophisticated. Evidence has been found for their use, initially alongside Mode 1 tools, from about 1.5 million years ago.

Hominids using these Mode 2 tools were previously thought to have arrived in East Asia some 0.8 million years ago. But this new discovery suggests they were present 300,000 years earlier, rewriting our understanding of how they spread across the globe.

Nor were these some isolated early settlers. The evidence from the site suggests an entire industry for the creation of such Mode 2 tools, using organized flaking techniques to create the edges of the axes and other tools, as well as a standard process for making them. Discarded tools which failed during production may also have been found.

These were skilled toolmakers, using learned techniques to produce and reproduce effective tools in large quantities. The fact that they were doing so in East Asia much earlier than thought means our entire understanding of prehistory in the region must be reassessed.

The stages of the preparation of the Mode 2 tool cores, with examples as discovered at the site (SciTechDaily)

The stages of the preparation of the Mode 2 tool cores, with examples as discovered at the site (SciTechDaily)

The discovery also reveals that the production process at the site included the preparation of tool “cores” which were broken from larger stone blocks. As many as five separate stages have been identified in the production of these cores, which were then worked into edged tools.

The entire region was previously thought to only support the production of the much simpler Mode 1 tool types at this time. The authors of the study argue that this new evidence of tool manufacture might mean that the whole area should be reassessed, and that there may be more Mode 2 tool manufacturing sites.

What does this mean? The volume of production at the site and the sophistication of the production process argue against this being an isolated oddity in the region. Perhaps we need to rethink our entire understanding of hominid tool manufacture in East Asia, and when our distant Mode 2 ancestors travelled here.

Top Image: Worked “Mode 2” tools from the site with intentional breakage points which point to this sophisticated tool production process arriving in East Asia 300,000 years earlier than previously thought. Source: IVPP / SciTechDaily.

By Joseph Green

 
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Joe

Joe Green is an editor and writer at Stella Novus. He has a Masters in English Literature from Durham University and was, once, a chartered accountant. A professional writer but an amateur historian, he has held a lifelong fascination in... Read More

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