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‘The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopa’ exhibit at Houston Museum of Natural Science featuring a model of “Lucy”, Australopithecus Afarensis.

Oldest Tools in the World Found at Lake Turkana, Predate Early Humans

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Half a million years before early humans arrived on the scene, the prehistoric hominins living in East Africa were shaping tools out of stone. These rare artifacts have been discovered by scientists working near Lake Turkana, Kenya. They are said to be the oldest stone tools ever found, predating previous tools by 700,000 years.

The landscape of fossil-rich Lake Turkana, Kenya.

The landscape of fossil-rich Lake Turkana, Kenya. Wikimedia Commons

The team of scientists involved in the West Turkana Archaeological Project found the tools by chance when they began investigations at a previously unexplored site near Lake Turkana— Lomekwi 3. Amazingly, some of the tools were found on the surface of the soil, while others were discovered through excavation. They appear to have been created more than 3.3 million years ago.

The finds are significant, as they demonstrate that someone was shaping tools 500,000 years before our ancestors of the genus Homo, considered the first fully fledged humans. Researchers presume the tools were shaped by an earlier genus, possibly Australopithecus (often associated with the well-known fossil Lucy) who appeared in Africa approximately four million years ago.

The findings have been reported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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In all, the team, led by archaeologist Sonia Harmand of New York’s Stony Brook University, found 20 flakes, cores, and anvils used as a base to shape stones, with “telltale marks of intentional engineering”. They also uncovered an additional 130 other tools, according to science magazine Discover.

The Telegraph reports that the artifacts were clearly and deliberately “knapped” or flaked. It is not believed the tools were created by accidental fracture or natural forces.

Levallois point blademaking technique, a distinctive type of tool crafting or “knapping” developed by precursors to modern humans during the Palaeolithic.

Levallois point blademaking technique, a distinctive type of tool crafting or “knapping” developed by precursors to modern humans during the Palaeolithic. Representational image only. Wikimedia Commons

Knapping a stone piece produces smaller flakes with sharp edges. These sharp objects are useful for cutting meat off bones or working with plants. The original rock pieces possess characteristic marks, indicating they’ve been used in crafting.

Illustration of the species Homo habilis (genus Homo between 2.1 and 1.5 million years ago) shaping a tool by “knapping”.

Illustration of the species Homo habilis (genus Homo between 2.1 and 1.5 million years ago) shaping a tool by “knapping”. Credit: Vassar.edu

The unique Lake Turkana in Kenya is the world’s largest alkaline lake, as well as the world’s largest permanent desert lake. This archaeologically significant area has offered up fossils of major importance in the study of human origins and evolution.

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Satellite image of Lake Turkana illustrating its beautiful jade color. Due to amazing fossilised finds, the site is considered the cradle of humankind.

Satellite image of Lake Turkana illustrating its beautiful jade color. Due to amazing fossilised finds, the site is considered the cradle of humankind.  Public Domain

The team suggests the finds contribute significantly to the present understanding of hominid behavior, and its diversity through time. Harmand said of the discovery, “The Lomekwi 3 tools mark a new beginning to the known archaeological record.”

The remarkable discovery of the stone tools was announced at a meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society this month.

Featured Image: ‘The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopa’ exhibit at Houston Museum of Natural Science featuring a model of “Lucy”, Australopithecus Afarensis. The Turkana stone tools are thought to have been made by Australopithecus or a contemporary species. Jason Kuffer/ Flickr

By Liz Leafloor

Comments

They can date the ground which the stone was found in; as in ‘in this location the earth that is 20 feet down has not been disturbed for such and such number of years.’

It’s not shockingly accurate; but in the time frame that we are talking about; give or take 5000 years makes little difference. Also, if there is an error (from evidence not practice) it skews to the younger side (as in the tools might be older than they were dated to from this method).

Greyface lives!

They appear to be around 3,3 million years old. Really?

Since when can they date stone? This is more like, hmm yeah looks old.

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