Hominids used hand axes earlier than thought


Left Oldowan tools, right, classic Archeulean hand axe, via the Wiki, click pics for more info

Paleo-anthropologists have unearthed evidence for complex stone tools being used 350,000 years earlier than  than thought in Northern Kenya:

“We suspected that Kokiselei was a rather old site, but I was taken aback when I realised that the geological data indicated it was the oldest Acheulian site in the world,” said lead author Christopher Lepre, a geologist from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University, both in the U.S., of the paper published in Nature today.

The two early primary stone tool cultures are Oldowan and Acheulean, shown above. Oldowan tools tend to be simple flakes sharpened along one edge, while Archeulean hand axes are generally bi-faced, tear-dropped shaped, and sometimes rather beautiful pieces of work. Most scientists speculate the simpler tools were made by Homo habilis and/or his close kin, whereas the oldest hand axes now firmly overlap the time period of H. ergaster, a larger brained hominid considered the best candidate to give rise to several successful clades of hominid including the classic Home erectus and H. heidelbergensis. (Although, who used what probably wouldn’t be completely settled even if a complete fossilized hand from a specific hominid was found wrapped around one tool or the other).

As important as stone tools and fossils are, wouldn’t it be fascinating to actually see these early humans? Anthropologists have been able to extract and infer a great deal from bits of bone and chipped stone, but imagine what creatures in the distant future would make if they found a few petrified ivory keys stuck in a chunk of fossilized wooden frame from a grand piano? They might infer it was intended to be operated by fingers, maybe even the idea of a musical instrument. But the rich and diverse history of symphonies and operas and rock and roll would be forever lost to time.


  1. Greg Laden says

    Some time ago I suggested in a few different places that hand axes would ultimately be found to date to the origin of Homo erectus and that there would be a species-artifact type link (despite the loud but unfounded assertion by my close personal buddy Ofer Bar-Yosef that there is no such thing!). So, this is interesting.

  2. says

    Lies! The world was only created 6000 years ago!

    That or some deity went through an awful lot of trouble carving up rocks in Kenya…

    In reality though, it’s very interesting. Africa is awesome for that kind of thing. If ever you happen to go to South Africa, it’s well worth visiting Maropeng, a natural history museum of early human development at the Cradle of Humankind. They have transitional fossils there… Heh.

    I saw Australopithecus Sediba there first hand a couple of years ago, it was pretty awesome.

  3. says

    Someone, of course, had to beat me to the 6,000 year old joke. I was reading about this on Science Daily today, If I remember correctly these were being used by our ancestors like 1.8 MILLION years ago. Which is mindblowing.

  4. Stevarious says

    Kenya?! It must be an Obumblebama plot with the ebul mooslims to discredit Real True Christianity®!


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