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Discovery Moves Use of Stone Tools Back 800,000 Years
Date:8/11/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists excavating in Ethiopia have come across bones from a cow-sized animal and an antelope, probably eaten by early human ancestors, that seem to have been dug out by tools -- probably to get the nutritious marrow out.

The bones are dated to about the time of Australopithecus afarensis, or the famous "Lucy" and her kin, which effectively moves back the date of the first known use of stone tools by hominins by almost a million years, from about 2.6 or 2.5 million years ago to 3.4 million years ago.

"The most obvious [value of the discovery] is that it pushes our knowledge of stone-tool use in the hominid lineage 800,000 years earlier than anything we previously knew," said Jeffrey T. Laitman, distinguished professor and director of anatomy and functional morphology and of gross anatomy at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "This is a quantum leap in our knowledge."

The discovery changes the known evolutionary history of humans, said Zeresenay Alemseged, co-author of a paper on the discovery published in the Aug. 12 issue of Nature.

Not only must the record be changed to reflect that the earliest evidence for tool use and meat eating is now much earlier than previously thought, but it is also the first time that these behaviors have been attributed to A. afarensis, said Alemseged, who is curator of anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and head of the Dikika Research Project, which made the discovery.

Previously, experts had thought that "these key human attributes [were] unique to the genus Homo," he added.

The bones were found about 200 meters away from the bones of Selam, known as "Lucy's Daughter" or, as Alemseged described her, "the earliest child." Selam, who lived about 3.3 million years ago, is the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor
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