Human Ancestors Crafted Advanced Tools Earlier Than Thought

Human Ancestors Crafted Advanced Tools Earlier Than Thought

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Taller and more robust than modern humans but with a smaller cranial capacity, Homo erectus appeared roughly 2 million years ago and spread across Africa, Asia and parts of southern Europe before vanishing from the fossil record some 70,000 years ago. Thought to be our direct ancestors, these hominins probably mastered fire and were the first to develop cutting and butchering instruments known as Acheulian tools, named after an archaeological site in Saint-Acheul, France.

Made from chiseled stone, Acheulian tools improved upon the pebble-like chopping implements wielded by Homo erectus’ more primitive cousins such as Homo habilis. According to some scientists, the symmetry of Acheulian tools–epitomized by teardrop- and oval-shaped axes–suggests that Homo erectus might have used language to communicate, since the same regions of the brain control aesthetic awareness and speech. Others have pointed to the artifacts’ sophistication as evidence that their manufacturers could innovate, think ahead and understand spatial relations better than their ancestors.

In 2007, a team of researchers led by Christopher Lepre of Rutgers University used a cutting-edge technique to date a haul of Acheulian tools found near Homo erectus remains at a site known as Kokiselei, located on the banks of Kenya’s Lake Turkana. The artifacts turned out to be at least 300,000 years older than similar instruments fashioned by Homo erectus in Ethiopia and India, Lepre and his colleagues revealed in Thursday’s issue of Nature. “We suspected that Kokiselei was a rather old site, but I was taken aback when I realized that the geological data indicated it was the oldest Acheulian site in the world,” Lepre recalled in a statement.

Intriguingly, a Homo erectus site in Dmanisi, Georgia, that dates from the same period as Kokiselei contains crude pebble tools and no traces of Acheulian technology. This challenges the prevailing theory that Homo erectus originated in Africa and later drifted across Eurasia. “The Acheulian tools represent a great technological leap,” said Dennis Kent, a co-author of the study. “Why didn’t Homo erectus take these tools with them to Asia?” Perhaps, the researchers suggest, Homo erectus individuals venturing out of Africa left behind their most advanced toolkit, or maybe they simply “lost” their knowledge of Acheulian craftsmanship during their wanderings
Video: Homo Erectus

10 things we learned about our human ancestors in 2020

Early humans left behind clues — footprints, chiseled rocks, genetic material and more — that can reveal our species survived and spread across Earth. These ancient people weren't so different from us they traveled far and wide, hooked up with one another and even mined for natural resources (in this case, the reddish mineral ochre). Here are 10 things we learned about our human ancestors in 2020.


A tabular overview of the taxonomic ranking of Homo sapiens (with age estimates for each rank) is shown below.

Rank Name Common name Millions of years ago (commencement)
Life 4,200
Archaea 3,700
Domain Eukaryota Eukaryotes 2,100
Podiata Excludes Plants and their relatives 1,540
Obazoa Excludes Amoebozoa (Amoebas)
Opisthokonts Holozoa + Holomycota (Cristidicoidea and Fungi) 1,300
Holozoa Excludes Holomycota 1,100
Filozoa Choanozoa + Filasterea
Choanozoa Choanoflagellates + Animals 900
Kingdom Animalia Animals 610
Subkingdom Eumetazoa Excludes Porifera (Sponges)
Parahoxozoa Excludes Ctenophora (Comb Jellies)
Bilateria Triploblasts / Worms 560
Deuterostomes Division from Protostomes
Phylum Chordata Chordates (Vertebrates and closely related invertebrates) 530
Olfactores Excludes cephalochordates (Lancelets)
Subphylum Vertebrata Fish / Vertebrates 505
Infraphylum Gnathostomata Jawed fish 460
Teleostomi Bony fish 420
Sarcopterygii Lobe finned fish
Superclass Tetrapoda Tetrapods (animals with four limbs) 395
Amniota Amniotes (fully terrestrial tetrapods whose eggs are "equipped with an amnion") 340
Synapsida Proto-Mammals 308
Therapsid Limbs beneath the body and other mammalian traits 280
Class Mammalia Mammals 220
Subclass Theria Mammals that give birth to live young (i.e., non-egg-laying) 160
Infraclass Eutheria Placental mammals (i.e., non-marsupials) 125
Magnorder Boreoeutheria Supraprimates, (most) hoofed mammals, (most) carnivorous mammals, whales, and bats 124–101
Superorder Euarchontoglires Supraprimates: primates, colugos, tree shrews, rodents, and rabbits 100
Grandorder Euarchonta Primates, colugos, and tree shrews 99–80
Mirorder Primatomorpha Primates and colugos 79.6
Order Primates Primates / Plesiadapiformes 66
Suborder Haplorrhini "Dry-nosed" (literally, "simple-nosed") primates: tarsiers and monkeys (incl. apes) 63
Infraorder Simiiformes monkeys (incl. apes) 40
Parvorder Catarrhini "Downward-nosed" primates: apes and old-world monkeys 30
Superfamily Hominoidea Apes: great apes and lesser apes (gibbons) 22-20
Family Hominidae Great apes: humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans—the hominids 20–15
Subfamily Homininae Humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas (the African apes) [1] 14–12
Tribe Hominini Includes both Homo, Pan (chimpanzees), but not Gorilla. 10–8
Subtribe Hominina Genus Homo and close human relatives and ancestors after splitting from Pan—the hominins 8–4 [2]
(Genus) Ardipithecus s.l. 6-4
(Genus) Australopithecus 3
Genus Homo (H. habilis) Humans 2.5
(Species) H. erectus s.l.
(Species) H. heidelbergensis s.l.
Species Homo sapiens s.s. Anatomically modern humans 0.8–0.3 [3]

Unicellular life Edit

The choanoflagellates may look similar to the ancestors of the entire animal kingdom, and in particular they may be the ancestors of sponges. [5] [6]

Proterospongia (members of the Choanoflagellata) are the best living examples of what the ancestor of all animals may have looked like. They live in colonies, and show a primitive level of cellular specialization for different tasks.

Animals or Animalia Edit

Urmetazoan: The first fossils that might represent animals appear in the 665-million-year-old rocks of the Trezona Formation of South Australia. These fossils are interpreted as being early sponges. [7] Separation from the Porifera (sponges) lineage. Eumetazoa/Diploblast: separation from the Ctenophora ("comb jellies") lineage. Planulozoa/ParaHoxozoa: separation from the Placozoa and Cnidaria lineages. Almost all cnidarians possess nerves and muscles. Because they are the simplest animals to possess them, their ancestors were very probably the first animals to use nerves and muscles together. Cnidarians are also the first animals with an actual body of definite form and shape. They have radial symmetry. The first eyes evolved at this time.

Urbilaterian: Bilateria/Triploblasts, Nephrozoa (555 Ma), last common ancestor of protostomes (including the arthropod [insect, crustacean] and platyzoan [flatworms] lineages) and the deuterostomes (including the vertebrate [human] lineage). Earliest development of the brain, and of bilateral symmetry. Archaic representatives of this stage are flatworms, the simplest animals with organs that form from three germ layers.

Most known animal phyla appeared in the fossil record as marine species during the Cambrian explosion. Deuterostomes, last common ancestor of the chordate [human] lineage, the Echinodermata (starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, etc.) and Hemichordata (acorn worms and graptolites).

An archaic survivor from this stage is the acorn worm, sporting a circulatory system with a heart that also functions as a kidney. Acorn worms have a gill-like structure used for breathing, a structure similar to that of primitive fish. Acorn worms have a plexus concentrated into both dorsal and ventral nerve cords. The dorsal cord reaches into the proboscis, and is partially separated from the epidermis in that region. This part of the dorsal nerve cord is often hollow, and may well be homologous with the brain of vertebrates. [8]

Chordates Edit

The lancelet, still living today, retains some characteristics of the primitive chordates. It resembles Pikaia.

The first vertebrates appear: the ostracoderms, jawless fish related to present-day lampreys and hagfishes. Haikouichthys and Myllokunmingia are examples of these jawless fish, or Agnatha. (See also prehistoric fish). They were jawless and their internal skeletons were cartilaginous. They lacked the paired (pectoral and pelvic) fins of more advanced fish. They were precursors to the Osteichthyes (bony fish). [13]

The Placodermi were prehistoric fishes. Placoderms were some of the first jawed fishes (Gnathostomata), their jaws evolving from the first gill arch. [14] A placoderm's head and thorax were covered by articulated armoured plates and the rest of the body was scaled or naked. However, the fossil record indicates that they left no descendants after the end of the Devonian and are less closely related to living bony fishes than sharks are. [ citation needed ]

Tetrapods Edit

Some fresh water lobe-finned fish (Sarcopterygii) develop legs and give rise to the Tetrapoda.

The first tetrapods evolved in shallow and swampy freshwater habitats.

Primitive tetrapods developed from a lobe-finned fish (an "osteolepid Sarcopterygian"), with a two-lobed brain in a flattened skull, a wide mouth and a short snout, whose upward-facing eyes show that it was a bottom-dweller, and which had already developed adaptations of fins with fleshy bases and bones. (The "living fossil" coelacanth is a related lobe-finned fish without these shallow-water adaptations.) Tetrapod fishes used their fins as paddles in shallow-water habitats choked with plants and detritus. The universal tetrapod characteristics of front limbs that bend backward at the elbow and hind limbs that bend forward at the knee can plausibly be traced to early tetrapods living in shallow water. [16]

Panderichthys is a 90–130 cm (35–50 in) long fish from the Late Devonian period (380 Mya). It has a large tetrapod-like head. Panderichthys exhibits features transitional between lobe-finned fishes and early tetrapods.

Trackway impressions made by something that resembles Ichthyostega's limbs were formed 390 Ma in Polish marine tidal sediments. This suggests tetrapod evolution is older than the dated fossils of Panderichthys through to Ichthyostega.

Lungfishes retain some characteristics of the early Tetrapoda. One example is the Queensland lungfish.

Tiktaalik is a genus of sarcopterygian (lobe-finned) fishes from the late Devonian with many tetrapod-like features. It shows a clear link between Panderichthys and Acanthostega.

Acanthostega is an extinct amphibian, among the first animals to have recognizable limbs. It is a candidate for being one of the first vertebrates to be capable of coming onto land. It lacked wrists, and was generally poorly adapted for life on land. The limbs could not support the animal's weight. Acanthostega had both lungs and gills, also indicating it was a link between lobe-finned fish and terrestrial vertebrates.

Ichthyostega is an early tetrapod. Being one of the first animals with legs, arms, and finger bones, Ichthyostega is seen as a hybrid between a fish and an amphibian. Ichthyostega had legs but its limbs probably were not used for walking. They may have spent very brief periods out of water and would have used their legs to paw their way through the mud. [17]

Amphibia were the first four-legged animals to develop lungs which may have evolved from Hynerpeton 360 Mya.

Amphibians living today still retain many characteristics of the early tetrapods.

From amphibians came the first reptiles: Hylonomus is the earliest known reptile. It was 20 cm (8 in) long (including the tail) and probably would have looked rather similar to modern lizards. It had small sharp teeth and probably ate millipedes and early insects. It is a precursor of later Amniotes and mammal-like reptiles. Αlpha keratin first evolves here. It is used in the claws of modern lizards and birds, and hair in mammals. [18]

Evolution of the amniotic egg gives rise to the Amniota, reptiles that can reproduce on land and lay eggs on dry land. They did not need to return to water for reproduction. This adaptation gave them the capability to inhabit the uplands for the first time.

Reptiles have advanced nervous systems, compared to amphibians, with twelve pairs of cranial nerves.

Mammals Edit

The earliest mammal-like reptiles are the pelycosaurs. The pelycosaurs were the first animals to have temporal fenestrae. Pelycosaurs are not therapsids but soon they gave rise to them. The Therapsida were the ancestor of mammals.

The therapsids have temporal fenestrae larger and more mammal-like than pelycosaurs, their teeth show more serial differentiation, and later forms had evolved a secondary palate. A secondary palate enables the animal to eat and breathe at the same time and is a sign of a more active, perhaps warm-blooded, way of life. [19]

One subgroup of therapsids, the cynodonts, evolved more mammal-like characteristics.

The jaws of cynodonts resemble modern mammal jaws. This group of animals likely contains a species which is the ancestor of all modern mammals. [20]

From Eucynodontia (cynodonts) came the first mammals. Most early mammals were small shrew-like animals that fed on insects. Although there is no evidence in the fossil record, it is likely that these animals had a constant body temperature and milk glands for their young. The neocortex region of the brain first evolved in mammals and thus is unique to them.

Monotremes are an egg-laying group of mammals represented amongst modern animals by the platypus and echidna. Recent genome sequencing of the platypus indicates that its sex genes are closer to those of birds than to those of the therian (live birthing) mammals. Comparing this to other mammals, it can be inferred that the first mammals to gain sexual differentiation through the existence or lack of SRY gene (found in the y-Chromosome) evolved after the monotreme lineage split off.

Juramaia sinensis [21] is the earliest known eutherian mammal fossil.

Primates Edit

A group of small, nocturnal, arboreal, insect-eating mammals called Euarchonta begins a speciation that will lead to the orders of primates, treeshrews and flying lemurs. Primatomorpha is a subdivision of Euarchonta including primates and their ancestral stem-primates Plesiadapiformes. An early stem-primate, Plesiadapis, still had claws and eyes on the side of the head, making it faster on the ground than in the trees, but it began to spend long times on lower branches, feeding on fruits and leaves.

The Plesiadapiformes very likely contain the ancestor species of all primates. [22] They first appeared in the fossil record around 66 million years ago, soon after the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event that eliminated about three-quarters of plant and animal species on Earth, including most dinosaurs. [23] [24]

One of the last Plesiadapiformes is Carpolestes simpsoni, having grasping digits but not forward-facing eyes.

Haplorrhini splits into infraorders Platyrrhini and Catarrhini. Platyrrhines, New World monkeys, have prehensile tails and males are color blind. The individuals whose descendants would become Platyrrhini are conjectured to have migrated to South America either on a raft of vegetation or via a land bridge (the hypothesis now favored [25] ). Catarrhines mostly stayed in Africa as the two continents drifted apart. Possible early ancestors of catarrhines include Aegyptopithecus and Saadanius.

Catarrhini splits into 2 superfamilies, Old World monkeys (Cercopithecoidea) and apes (Hominoidea). Human trichromatic color vision had its genetic origins in this period.

Proconsul was an early genus of catarrhine primates. They had a mixture of Old World monkey and ape characteristics. Proconsul's monkey-like features include thin tooth enamel, a light build with a narrow chest and short forelimbs, and an arboreal quadrupedal lifestyle. Its ape-like features are its lack of a tail, ape-like elbows, and a slightly larger brain relative to body size.

Proconsul africanus is a possible ancestor of both great and lesser apes, including humans.

Hominidae Edit

Date Event
18 Ma Hominidae (great ape ancestors) speciate from the ancestors of the gibbon (lesser apes) between c. 20 to 16 Ma. [26]
16 Ma Homininae ancestors speciate from the ancestors of the orangutan between c. 18 to 14 Ma. [27]

Pierolapithecus catalaunicus is thought to be a common ancestor of humans and the other great apes, or at least a species that brings us closer to a common ancestor than any previous fossil discovery. It had the special adaptations for tree climbing as do present-day humans and other great apes: a wide, flat rib cage, a stiff lower spine, flexible wrists, and shoulder blades that lie along its back.

Hominini: The latest common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees is estimated to have lived between roughly 10 to 5 million years ago. Both chimpanzees and humans have a larynx that repositions during the first two years of life to a spot between the pharynx and the lungs, indicating that the common ancestors have this feature, a precondition for vocalized speech in humans. Speciation may have begun shortly after 10 Ma, but late admixture between the lineages may have taken place until after 5 Ma. Candidates of Hominina or Homininae species which lived in this time period include Ouranopithecus (c. 8 Ma), Graecopithecus (c. 7 Ma), Sahelanthropus tchadensis (c. 7 Ma), Orrorin tugenensis (c. 6 Ma).

Ardipithecus was arboreal, meaning it lived largely in the forest where it competed with other forest animals for food, no doubt including the contemporary ancestor of the chimpanzees. Ardipithecus was probably bipedal as evidenced by its bowl shaped pelvis, the angle of its foramen magnum and its thinner wrist bones, though its feet were still adapted for grasping rather than walking for long distances.

A member of the Australopithecus afarensis left human-like footprints on volcanic ash in Laetoli, northern Tanzania, providing strong evidence of full-time bipedalism. Australopithecus afarensis lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago, and is considered one of the earliest hominins—those species that developed and comprised the lineage of Homo and Homo ' s closest relatives after the split from the line of the chimpanzees.

It is thought that A. afarensis was ancestral to both the genus Australopithecus and the genus Homo. Compared to the modern and extinct great apes, A. afarensis had reduced canines and molars, although they were still relatively larger than in modern humans. A. afarensis also has a relatively small brain size (380–430 cm³) and a prognathic (anterior-projecting) face.

Australopithecines have been found in savannah environments they probably developed their diet to include scavenged meat. Analyses of Australopithecus africanus lower vertebrae suggests that these bones changed in females to support bipedalism even during pregnancy.

Homo homo Edit

Early Homo appears in East Africa, speciating from australopithecine ancestors. Sophisticated stone tools mark the beginning of the Lower Paleolithic. Australopithecus garhi was using stone tools at about 2.5 Ma. Homo habilis is the oldest species given the designation Homo, by Leakey et al. (1964). H. habilis is intermediate between Australopithecus afarensis and H. erectus, and there have been suggestions to re-classify it within genus Australopithecus, as Australopithecus habilis.

Stone tools found at the Shangchen site in China and dated to 2.12 million years ago are considered the earliest known evidence of hominins outside Africa, surpassing Dmanisi in Georgia by 300,000 years. [34]

Homo erectus derives from early Homo or late Australopithecus.

Homo habilis, although significantly different of anatomy and physiology, is thought to be the ancestor of Homo ergaster, or African Homo erectus but it is also known to have coexisted with H. erectus for almost half a million years (until about 1.5 Ma). From its earliest appearance at about 1.9 Ma, H. erectus is distributed in East Africa and Southwest Asia (Homo georgicus). H. erectus is the first known species to develop control of fire, by about 1.5 Ma.

H. erectus later migrates throughout Eurasia, reaching Southeast Asia by 0.7 Ma. It is described in a number of subspecies. [35]

Homo antecessor may be a common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals. [37] [38] At present estimate, humans have approximately 20,000–25,000 genes and share 99% of their DNA with the now extinct Neanderthal [39] and 95–99% of their DNA with their closest living evolutionary relative, the chimpanzees. [40] [41] The human variant of the FOXP2 gene (linked to the control of speech) has been found to be identical in Neanderthals. [42]

Divergence of Neanderthal and Denisovan lineages from a common ancestor. [43] Homo heidelbergensis (in Africa also known as Homo rhodesiensis) had long been thought to be a likely candidate for the last common ancestor of the Neanderthal and modern human lineages. However, genetic evidence from the Sima de los Huesos fossils published in 2016 seems to suggest that H. heidelbergensis in its entirety should be included in the Neanderthal lineage, as "pre-Neanderthal" or "early Neanderthal", while the divergence time between the Neanderthal and modern lineages has been pushed back to before the emergence of H. heidelbergensis, to about 600,000 to 800,000 years ago, the approximate age of Homo antecessor. [44] [45]

Solidified footprints dated to about 350 ka and associated with H. heidelbergensis were found in southern Italy in 2003. [46]

Homo sapiens Edit

Fossils attributed to H. sapiens, along with stone tools, dated to approximately 300,000 years ago, found at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco [47] yield the earliest fossil evidence for anatomically modern Homo sapiens. Modern human presence in East Africa (Gademotta), at 276 kya. [48] A 177,000-year-old jawbone fossil discovered in Israel in 2017 is the oldest human remains found outside Africa. [49] However, in July 2019, anthropologists reported the discovery of 210,000 year old remains of a H. sapiens and 170,000 year old remains of a H. neanderthalensis in Apidima Cave, Peloponnese, Greece, more than 150,000 years older than previous H. sapiens finds in Europe. [50] [51] [52]

Neanderthals emerge from the Homo heidelbergensis lineage at about the same time (300 ka).

Patrilineal and matrilineal most recent common ancestors (MRCAs) of living humans roughly between 200 and 100 ka [53] [54] with some estimates on the patrilineal MRCA somewhat higher, ranging up to 250 to 500 kya. [55]

160,000 years ago, Homo sapiens idaltu in the Awash River Valley (near present-day Herto village, Ethiopia) practiced excarnation. [56]

Modern human presence in Southern Africa and West Africa. [57] Appearance of mitochondrial haplogroup (mt-haplogroup) L2.

Early evidence for behavioral modernity. [58] Appearance of mt-haplogroups M and N. Southern Dispersal migration out of Africa, Proto-Australoid peopling of Oceania. [59] Archaic admixture from Neanderthals in Eurasia, [60] [61] from Denisovans in Oceania with trace amounts in Eastern Eurasia, [62] and from an unspecified African lineage of archaic humans in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as an interbred species of Neanderthals and Denisovans in Asia and Oceania. [63] [64] [65] [66]

Behavioral modernity develops, according to the "great leap forward" theory. [67] Extinction of Homo floresiensis. [68] M168 mutation (carried by all non-African males). Appearance of mt-haplogroups U and K. Peopling of Europe, peopling of the North Asian Mammoth steppe. Paleolithic art. Extinction of Neanderthals and other archaic human variants (with possible survival of hybrid populations in Asia and Africa.) Appearance of Y-Haplogroup R2 mt-haplogroups J and X.

The First Butchers

Were there other toolmakers and meat eaters in our family tree?

L iving humans, all 7.3 billion of us, are classified as Homo sapiens. That means we are all part of the same species our genus is Homo, meaning “man,” and our species is sapiens, meaning “wise.” Both genetic and fossil evidence place the origin of our species at about 200,000 years ago in Africa. But when and where did the earliest members of the genus Homo evolve? And what makes our genus unique compared with other branches on our family tree?

T he best candidate, based on current evidence, for the earliest species in our genus is Homo habilis (meaning “handy man”). This species, which was named from fossils found at Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania, by a research team led by Louis Leakey, was announced in 1964. The team defined the new species based on the specific anatomy of the fossils, including a larger brain and body and smaller teeth than members of the earlier-known genus Australopithecus. But they also did something novel as far as naming a species goes—they linked Homo habilis with the origin of a specific behavior by suggesting that this species was the maker of the simple Oldowan stone tools found previously in the same sedimentary layer. (These tools—which are basically simple stone knives—are made when roundish rocks, called hammerstones, are struck against more angular rocks, called cores, to strike off sharp flakes.) Later, in 1981, when cut marks were found on animal fossils at Olduvai Gorge, they were presumed to have been created by Homo habilis wielding these stone tools to butcher large animals. Homo habilis was declared the toolmaker and the meat eater, and, as a result, a core part of the definition of our genus involved these two novel behaviors.

The species Homo habilis—meaning “handy man”—was long thought to be our earliest ancestor who made tools to butcher animals for food. Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program

T his narrative held for over three decades, through the late 1990s. In 1997, even earlier stone tools—dating to 2.5–2.6 million years old—were reported from the Gona study area in Ethiopia. In the same year, a new Homo habilis fossil upper-jaw fragment from the Hadar site in Ethiopia pushed the origin of this species back to 2.34 million years ago. Then, in 1999, 2.5-million-year-old stone-tool cut marks on animal fossils were reported from the Bouri site in Ethiopia, along with percussion marks made on bones when early humans smashed them open with stones to retrieve the nutritious marrow inside. Even with this new evidence, though, the correlation persisted, and this package of new traits—larger brains, stone toolmaking, and meat eating—still seemed to emerge in our earliest Homo ancestors around 2.3–2.5 million years ago.

B ut recent finds contradict those links. In 2010, a startling announcement was made: Two bones with stone-tool butchery marks dated to 3.4 million years ago had been found at the Dikika site in Ethiopia, pushing the earliest traces of meat eating nearly a million years earlier than previously known. This was also far earlier than the earliest Homo fossils. Did this mean Australopithecus could use, and maybe even make, stone tools?

A mong other things, critics noted that no stone tools had been found at Dikika. So perhaps Australopithecus wasn’t actually making tools, but just picking up naturally sharp rocks to use as stone knives. However, in May 2015, 3.3-million-year-old stone tools from the Lomekwi 3 site, in Kenya, were announced, pushing back the origin of stone toolmaking by 700,000 years. Just two months earlier, in March 2015, a 2.8-million-year-old fossil mandible and teeth from the Ledi-Geraru research area, in Ethiopia, had pushed the origin of our genus back about 500,000 years. These fossils have not been assigned to a particular species of early Homo, but it is now well accepted that they are the earliest fossils of our genus.

Researchers discovered cut marks on this fossil antelope leg bone from Koobi Fora in Kenya, dating to 1.5 million years ago. Briana Pobiner

T he current evidence points to toolmaking and meat eating occurring by 3.3 million years ago, but only a handful of sites with stone tools and/or butchered animal bones have been found before about 1.8 million years ago. The earliest site with evidence that early humans repeatedly returned to one place to make stone tools and butcher animals, a site in Kenya known as Kanjera South, is dated to 2.0 million years ago this seems to be the beginning of consistent butchery activities.

S o now the evidence for making and using tools dates back to half a million years before the origin of our genus. Making tools almost certainly helped toolmakers survive. Toolmaking would have facilitated access to a wider range of foods and the ability to process those foods more intensively or efficiently, likely making them more palatable and yielding more calories. In the case of meat and marrow eating, toolmaking would have opened up new sources of food higher in protein, fat, and calories than many other foods available in African savanna landscapes.

G iven these benefits, could stone toolmaking be a behavior more common in our evolutionary history than we thought, and not something that only emerged with our genus? Chimpanzees use stone tools to crack open nuts and even make wooden spears to hunt smaller primates called bush babies, suggesting that the capacity to make and use tools is rooted deep in our evolutionary history. Still, chimpanzees don’t use tools to make other tools, as early humans did when they created the first stone knives. They also don’t eat animals larger than themselves their favorite prey are colobus monkeys, which are much smaller than they are. The earliest butchery marks are on the bones of extinct animals that were similar to today’s wildebeests and zebras, which were much bigger than the Australopithecus individuals having them for dinner.

S o what does all this tell us about the idea that Homo was the first maker of stone tools?

S cientists construct hypotheses based on available evidence and then test those hypotheses by gathering additional evidence. The long-standing hypothesis that only our genus was capable of making and/or using stone tools to butcher large animals seems to have been refuted by the recent finds of stone tools at Lomekwi and butchered bones at Dikika—at least for now—since the oldest Homo fossils are half a million years younger than the tools and butchered bones. Perhaps continued field research in sediments dating to around 3.0–3.5 million years ago will turn up Homo fossils, and then the hypothesis will again be supported. (The absence of Homo fossils from this time period is not necessarily evidence of their absence.)

Bernard Wood of George Washington University says that “a convincing hypothesis for the origin of Homo remains elusive,” and argues that Homo habilis should be classified neither as Homo or Australopithecus, but in its own genus. A recent review of the evolution of early Homo suggests that anatomical, physiological, and behavioral traits long held to define our genus did not arise in a single integrated package, but instead emerged over about a million years in three distinct lineages, with some traits evolving earlier and some later. In any case, it has become clear with more evidence that the origin of our genus remains murky, and that Homo may not have been the earliest toolmaker and meat eater in our family tree.

Humans Reached North America 10,000 Years Earlier Than We Thought, New Research Suggests

Archaeological discoveries in a Mexican cave suggest humans reached North America some 30,000 years ago, which is a whopping 10,000 to 15,000 years earlier than previous estimates. The new research means it’s all but certain that the first people to reach the continent did so by following a Pacific coastal route.

The first people to reach North America didn’t wait around for the giant ice shelves to melt, reaching the continent at the peak of the last ice age, according to two related studies published today in Nature.

The newly revised time frame, as evidenced by stone tools and flakes found at Chiquihuite Cave in northern Mexico, suggests humans first ventured into North America between 31,000 and 33,000 years ago, instead of the more generally agreed upon window of 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. That’s a significant update to our thinking and a definite rewrite-the-textbooks kind of discovery.

Indeed, the scientific ramifications of these new papers aren’t trivial, as they weigh upon two notable theories: the Clovis-first Hypothesis and the Coastal Migration Hypothesis. If confirmed, the new discovery means the Clovis culture, with their distinctive fluted spear points, were not the first humans to reach North America some 13,000 years ago. It also means the initial route into the continent followed along the Pacific coast and not an interior corridor, given a human presence in these Mexican caves during the Last Glacial Maximum, when continental ice sheets were at their largest.

The first paper , led by archaeologist Ciprian Ardelean from Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas in Mexico, describes stone tools and flakes, the remains of plants, and scraps of non-human animal DNA found in Chiquihuite Cave, a high-altitude site located in the Astillero Mountains. A handful of artifacts found at the same site in 2012 hinted at the extreme age of human occupation, leading to this more extensive investigation.

In total, the archaeologists found 1,930 stone artifacts, the oldest of which were dated to around 27,000 years ago and the youngest to around 13,000 years ago. The artifacts were manufactured from limestone but knapped into a previously unknown lithic style.

“Overall, the assemblage represents a lithic industry with no evident similarities to any of the other cultural complexes of the Pleistocene or Early Holocene epochs known in the Americas,” wrote the authors.

This mode of industry likely required advanced flaking skills to turn the raw material—recrystallized limestone—into tools, according to the researchers. The scientists don’t yet know how or where the greenish limestone was sourced, but a chemical analysis suggests this material didn’t come from inside the cave.

In total, Ardelean and his colleagues obtained 52 ages from bone, charcoal, and sediment found at the site, using radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence dating techniques. Stone tools pulled out from the deepest layers, some 10 feet below the cave surface, were dated to 26,500 years old. Previous work by Ardelean at an even deeper layer yielded stone flakes produced by knapping, which pushes back “dates for human dispersal to the region possibly as early as 33,000–31,000 years ago,” according to the study. As Ardelean told Gizmodo, the 33,000- to 31,000-year timeframe “is proposed as the earliest possible presence, but the occupation is more evident” at around 26,500 years ago.

“This expansively dated site is rich in stone tool evidence unlike anything seen in the Clovis technology,” Kira Westaway, a geochronologist at Macquarie University in Australia who wasn’t involved in the new study, told Gizmodo. “It suggests a pre-Clovis community that dispersed to the Americas long before anyone had anticipated.”

In addition to the stone tools and flakes, the researchers analyzed plant remains and traces of environmental DNA. Unfortunately, the researchers weren’t able to find any bones or DNA belonging to humans.

“This does not negate a human presence at Chiquihuite Cave, as the probability of detecting ancient human DNA from cave sediments has previously been shown to be low,” wrote the authors. “Further archaeological and environmental DNA work is required to better elucidate the origins of the inhabitants of Chiquihuite Cave, their bio-cultural relationship to other older-than-Clovis groups and the path that their ancestors followed to the Americas.”

Some scientists are skeptical of the new conclusions. “While the dating of the layers appears accurate, I am intrigued but unconvinced at present that this represents an early human presence,” Ben Potter, an archaeologist affiliated with the Arctic Studies Center at the University of Liaocheng in China, told Gizmodo. “However, the authors are to be commended for bringing a strong multidisciplinary effort to understand the cave.”

Potter’s concern stems from the fact that much of the cave floor is covered in limestone roof-fall deposits, which happens to be the raw material used to produce the artifacts.

“The authors argue that the limestone artifacts are of a different material than the broken limestone of the cave and matrix [the stratigraphic layers containing the artifacts], but they don’t provide any analytical data demonstrating this,” said Potter.

An alternate explanation, he suggested, is that these pieces aren’t stone tools, but geofacts—natural stone formations that are difficult to distinguish from human-made artifacts. These geofacts could’ve been produced by limestone chunks falling from the ceiling to the floor and then eroding, among other possible natural processes, he said.

“Unfortunately, the key data that would help test between these hypotheses is not present: detailed technical illustrations showing flake scar removals and other technical attributes,” said Potter. “The photographs are intriguing and some of the items appear to be artifacts, but many appear to be broken tabular chunks without sharp working edges,” he said, adding that “no technical details” were provided in the paper or the supplements. Without this data, “it is difficult to fully distinguish geofacts from artifacts.”

Indeed, the study authors are making a big claim that requires robust evidence. The proposed dates in central America “would imply an even earlier peopling of the Americas from the North, perhaps following the Asian and American coastlines, at least doubling the presently accepted figures,” Chris Stringer, a physical anthropologist from the Natural History Museum in London who wasn’t involved with the new research, told Gizmodo.

The second Nature paper published today is authored by Lorena Becerra-Valdivia from the University of New South Wales and Thomas Higham from the University of Oxford—both of whom also contributed to the Ardelean paper.

By reviewing radiocarbon and luminescence dates from 42 North American and Beringian archaeological sites, Becerra-Valdivia and Higham show that humans, though thinly populated, were most certainly in the Americas by about 26,500 to 19,000 years ago. As for more widespread human occupation, that didn’t happen until the last ice entered into its final death throes, about 14,700 to 12,900 years ago, according to the paper. The researchers used statistical modeling to estimate patterns of human dispersal across the continent, taking factors like genetics and climatic evidence into account, along with the archaeological evidence.

That humans were living in North America by roughly 20,000 years ago seems to be the case. Sites considered in the new paper include Cactus Hill in Virginia, dated to 19,000 to 20,000 years ago Santa Elina in Brazil, dated to 23,000 years ago Monte Verde II in south-central Chile, dated to 18,500 to 14,500 years ago Cooper’s Ferry in Idaho, dated to 16,000 to 15,000 years ago Paisley Caves in Oregon, dated to 14,000 to 13,000 years ago and, of course, the new findings from Chiquihuite Cave.

More controversially, there’s the Cerutti site in California to consider, which archaeologists dated to 130,000 years ago, in a result so strange and seemingly outlandish that it’s largely ignored by archaeologists (including the authors of this paper).

Potter was unimpressed with the new study, saying the “authors assume that each date and site have no contextual or other problems,” which is “far from the case.” The “uncritical inclusion of some sites and exclusion of others leaves the reader with a confused picture,” a problem compounded by the absence of other data, such as the “genetic-derived dating of population splits, admixtures [interbreeding events], and population expansion and lineage diversification associated with the peopling of the Americas,” said Potter.

“In my opinion, the earliest widespread manifestation in the Americas dates to 14,500 to 14,000 years ago,” said Potter. There are some tentatively dated human sites prior to 16,000, he said, but sites earlier than that—including Chiquihuite Cave—are ambiguous at best, in his view.

Indeed, the time has come, despite these concerns, to put the Clovis-first theory to rest.

“For most of the 20th century, it was believed that the peopling of the Americas occurred by conquering hunters some 13,000 years ago via an ‘ice-free corridor’ through the vast ice sheets that still covered the landscape after the last ice age,” said Westaway. “They brought with them their own stone toolkit named the Clovis technology that rapidly spread across the Americas, and thus, this dispersal became known as the Clovis-first model.”

The two new papers “challenge this image of humans conquering the ‘ice wall’ and offer an alternative scenario to the Clovis-first model,” she said. “This combined research opens up a world of new research possibilities, it breaks down the limitations of accepted theories and dispersal routes and demonstrates the potential of new chronologies for changing our preconceived notions.”

New Evidence Bolsters Theory That First Americans Arrived by the Pacific Coast

Archaeological evidence excavated in western Idaho suggests humans were in the region well over…

Indeed, the Pacific Coastal Route hypothesis has never looked stronger. It certainly appears that, at the peak of the last ice age, humans hugged the Pacific coast, bypassing the impenetrable Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets. It’s still very likely that humans traveled through an ice-free corridor between these sheets, though at a later time.

We clearly have lots to learn about the peopling of the Americas, but the picture is increasingly coming into view.

Senior staff reporter at Gizmodo specializing in astronomy, space exploration, SETI, archaeology, bioethics, animal intelligence, human enhancement, and risks posed by AI and other advanced tech.

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It’s difficult to see why there was such a huge lag time between the initial peopling of the Americas and the attainment of a sufficiently large population that they started leaving abundant traces. What was suppressing population growth on these continents for so long?

Early Stone Age Tools

The earliest stone toolmaking developed by at least 2.6 million years ago. The Early Stone Age includes the most basic stone toolkits made by early humans. The Early Stone Age in Africa is equivalent to what is called the Lower Paleolithic in Europe and Asia.

The oldest stone tools, known as the Oldowan toolkit, consist of at least:
• Hammerstones that show battering on their surfaces
• Stone cores that show a series of flake scars along one or more edges
• Sharp stone flakes that were struck from the cores and offer useful cutting edges, along with lots of debris from the process of percussion flaking

By about 1.76 million years ago, early humans began to strike really large flakes and then continue to shape them by striking smaller flakes from around the edges. The resulting implements included a new kind of tool called a handaxe. These tools and other kinds of ‘large cutting tools’ characterize the Acheulean toolkit.

The basic toolkit, including a variety of novel forms of stone core, continued to be made. It and the Acheulean toolkit were made for an immense period of time – ending in different places by around 400,000 to 250,000 years ago.

700,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Point To A Mystery Human Ancestor In The Philippines

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A mysterious human ancestor existed in the Philippines some 700,000 years ago, and used relatively advanced tools to butcher rhinos, experts have found.

The discovery of a new set of tools and other pieces of evidence has revealed that ancient human relatives lived in parts of South East Asia hundreds of thousands of years earlier than experts believed possible.

Researchers uncovered traces of more than 50 stone tools and a nearly complete rhino skeleton bearing clear marks of having been butchered in the distant past.

According to experts, the rhinoceros skeleton dates back 709,000 years.

The butchered rhino. Image Credit: University of Wollongong,

The discovery comes as a surprise as previously, the earliest evidence of human habitation in the region—to the north of Luzon Island—had been a small foot bone found in a cave, dating back around 70,000 years.

Finding evidence of human occupation 700,000 years ago is a history-changer.

The tools discovered by experts consist of 49 sharp-edged stone flakes, six cores, and two pieces which are believed to be hammer stones.

Furthermore, scientists also discovered a number of skeletons at the site, including that of a Stegodon, brown deer, freshwater turtle, and monitor lizard.

However, the rhino skeleton was the most interesting.

Experts say that many of the rhino’s bones had clear traces of cuts consistent with butchering, and various bones had marks as if they were hit with a hammerstone.

However, even or fascinating is the fact that experts say that humans didn’t make the tools—and no, they weren’t made by aliens either.

According to experts, the oldest evidence of Homo sapiens is from about 300,000 years ago.

Part of the stone tools discovered by experts in the Philippines.

So if it wasn’t humans, who created the tools?

Scientists say that a close human ancestor crafted the tools, and the fact that they existed in the Philippines some 700,000 years ago means that we need to reconsider how and when humans and other hominins spread through the vast territories of South East Asia.

As noted by archaeologists Gerrit van den Bergh from the University of Wollongong in Australia, these mysterious hominins most likely spread across the area in a number of different migratory waves throughout various millennia.

Van den Bergh also believes that these mystery humans most likely traveled from north to south, from China and Taiwan, and not from West to East, from Borneo or Palawan through Indonesia, using ocean currents and settling as they went.

The rhino’s bones (pictured) have cut marks showing evidence the animal was butchered in the distant past. Image Credit: Thomas Ingicco, Mission Marche aux Philippines.

Interestingly, van den Bergh believes that this curious migration may have taken human ancestors on the Indonesian Island of Flores, giving rise to the mysterious Homo floresiensis species, aka the “Hobbit,” because of their relatively small stature.

Previously experts have found traces of ancient humans dating back 700,000 years on the Indonesian island of Java. Furthermore, Homo floresiensis ancestors have been found on Flores from around the same time.

Previous theories proposed by experts suggested that early hominids did not have the ability to craft boats, meaning that they could not have traveled by water in order to reach Luzon and the other islands separated from the mainland by deep oceans.

However, discoveries are changing what we thought about early humans and their capabilities.

“If you look at the fossil and recent faunas you see that there is an impoverishment as you go from north to south. On Luzon, you find fossils of stegodons, elephants, giant rats, rhino, deer, large reptiles and a type of water buffalo.

“On Sulawesi, the fossil fauna is already impoverished there’s no evidence of rhinos or deer ever entering there. Then on Flores, you only had stegodons, Komodo dragons, humans and giant rats, that’s all,” van den Bergh said.

“If animals did reach these islands by chance, by entering the sea and following the currents south, then you would expect the further south you go the fewer species you would find – and that’s what we see.”

Who exactly these hominins were, remains a profound mystery, and we will probably never know unless we discover remains of the species in order to study them.

Some experts hint, they may have been the mysterious Denisovans.

“There’s a lot of focus again in the islands of South East Asia because they are places where you find natural experiments in hominin evolution. That’s what makes Flores unique, and now Luzon is another place we can start looking for fossil evidence,” van den Bergh said.

Humans in America ‘115,000 years earlier than thought’

HI-TECH dating of remains found in the United States has shattered the timeline of human migration to America by more than 100,000 years.

Early hominin species such as the Neanderthal could have made it to the Americas much earlier than we thought humans had entered that part of the globe. Source:News Limited

ANIMAL bones that were clearly hunted by our ancestors in California have now been dated to around 130,000 years ago — meaning human-like creatures have been living in North America much longer than 15,000 years, as previously thought.

Teeth and bones of the Mastodon, an elephant-like creature unmistakably modified by human hands, along with stone hammers and anvils, leave no doubt that some species of early human feasted on its carcass, they reported in the journal Nature reported on Wednesday.

Discovered in 1992 during construction work to expand an expressway, the bone fragments “show clear signs of having been deliberately broken by humans with manual dexterity,” said lead author Steve Holen, director of research at the Center for American Palaeolithic Research.

Up to now, the earliest confirmed passage of human ancestors into North America took place about 15,000 years ago. But newly available hi-tech dating of the bone fragments has changed that understanding.

These were modern humans — Homo sapiens — that probably crossed from Siberia into what is today Alaska, by land or along the coast.

There have been several other claims of an even earlier bipedal footprint on the continent, but none would take that timeline back further than 50,000 years, and all remain sharply contested.

The absence of human remains at the California site throws wide open the question of who these mysterious hunters were, as well as when — and how — they arrived on American shores.

A close-up view of a spirally fractured mastodon femur bone. Picture: Tom Demere Source:AFP

Palaeontologist Don Swanson pointing at rock fragment near a large horizontal mastodon tusk fragment. Source:AFP

One possibility that can be excluded with high confidence is that they were like us. Homo sapiens, experts say, did not exit Africa until about 80,000 to 100,000 years ago.

But that still leaves a wide range of candidates, including several other hominin species that roamed Eurasia 130,000 years ago, the authors said.

They include Homo erectus, whose earliest traces date back nearly two million years Neanderthals, who fought and co-mingled with modern humans across Europe before dying out some 40,000 years ago and an enigmatic species called Denisovans, whose DNA survives today in Australian aboriginals.

In a companion analysis, Holen and his team argue that — despite rising seas 130,000 years ago due to an interglacial period of warming — the overseas distances to the Americas were within the capacity of human populations at the time.

Intriguingly, in light of the new find, recent studies have also shown a genetic link between present-day Amazonian native Americans and some Asian and Australian peoples.

The picture that emerges “indicates a diverse set of founding populations of the Americas,” said Erella Hovers, an anthropologist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who did not take part in the new study.

As for the early humans who carved up the bones at the Cerutti Mastodon site in San Diego, named for the palaeontologist who discovered it, they likely died out, leaving no genetic trace in modern North Americans, the authors conjectured.

Previous attempts to accurately date artefacts at the site fell short. Then, in 2014, co-author James Paces, a researcher with the US Geological Survey, used state-of-the-art radiometric methods to measure traces of natural uranium and its decaying byproducts in the mastodon bones, which were still fresh when broken by precise blows from stone hammers.

A handout picture released by the San Diego Natural History Museum shows a view of two mastodon femur balls, one faced up and once faced down, neural spine of a vertebra exposed (lower right) and a broken rib (lower left). Source:AFP

A handout image released by the University of Michigan shows mastodon skeleton schematic showing which bones and teeth of the animal were found at the site of the search. Source:AFP

The prehistoric butchery, he determined, took place 130,000 years ago, give or take 9,400 years, and was may have sought to extract nutritious marrow.

“Since the original discovery, dating technology has advanced to enable us to confirm with further certainty that early humans were here significantly earlier than commonly accepted,” said co-author Thomas Demere, a palaeontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

To strengthen the case, researchers set up an experiment to reproduce the stone-age food prep tableau unearthed from � E” of the excavation site.

Using stone hammers and anvils similar to those found, they broke open large elephant bones much in the way prehistoric humans might have done. Certain blows yielded exactly the kind of strike marks, on both the hammers and the bones.

The same patterns, further tests showed, could not have emerged from natural wear-and-tear, or from the deliberate crafting of the tools, called flaking.

“This is a very old technology,” said Holen. “We have people in Africa 1.5 million years ago breaking up elephant limb bones in this pattern, and as humans moved out of Africa and across the world they took this type of technology with them.” There remain nonetheless big holes in the narrative of human migration to the Americas, Hovers said, commenting in Nature.

“Time will tell whether this evidence will bring a paradigm change in our understanding of hominin dispersal and colonisation throughout the world, including in what now seems to be a not-so-new New World,” she wrote.

Archaeologists find earliest evidence of stone tool making

Our ancestors were making stone tools even earlier than we thought -- some 700,000 years older. That's the finding of the West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP) team -- co-led by Stony Brook University's Drs. Sonia Harmand and Jason Lewis -- who have found the earliest stone artifacts, dating to 3.3 million years ago, at a site named Lomekwi 3 on the western shore of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

"These tools shed light on an unexpected and previously unknown period of hominin behavior, and can tell us a lot about cognitive development in our ancestors that we can't understand from fossils alone," says Dr. Harmand, a Research Associate Professor in the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) at Stony Brook University. "Our finding disproves the long-standing assumption that Homo habilis was the first tool maker."

The discovery was announced in a paper, 3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya, published on May 21 in Nature. Dr. Harmand, the lead author, says that the Lomekwi 3 artifacts show that at least one group of ancient hominin started intentionally "knapping" stones -- breaking off pieces with quick, hard strikes from another stone -- to make sharp tools long before previously thought.

In the 1930s, paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey unearthed early stone artifacts at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and named them the Oldowan tool culture. In the 1960s they found hominin fossils (in association with those Oldowan tools) that looked more like later humans -- and assigned them to a new species, Homo habilis, handy man.

"Conventional wisdom in human evolutionary studies since has supposed that the origins of knapping stone tools was linked to the emergence of the genus Homo, and this technological development was tied to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands," says Dr. Lewis, a Research Assistant Professor at TBI. "The premise was that our lineage alone took the cognitive leap of hitting stones together to strike off sharp flakes, and that this was the foundation of our evolutionary success."

But a series of papers published in early 2015 have solidified an emerging paradigm shift in paleoanthropology -- Australopithecus africanus and other Pleistocene hominins, traditionally considered not to have made stone tools, have a human-like trabecular bone pattern in their hand bones consistent with stone tool knapping and use.

Credit getting lost for the find. One day in the field, Drs. Harmand and Lewis and their team accidently followed the wrong dry riverbed -- the only way of navigating these remote desert badlands -- and were scanning the landscape for a way back to the main channel. Local Turkana tribesman Sammy Lokorodi helped them spot the stone tools.

"The tools are much larger than later Oldowan tools, and we can see from the scars left on them when they were being made that the techniques used were more rudimentary, requiring holding the stone in two hands or resting the stone on an anvil when hitting it with a hammerstone," Dr. Harmand says. "Some of the gestures involved are reminiscent of those used by chimpanzees when they use stones to break open nuts."

The study of the Lomekwi 3 artifacts suggest they could represent a transitional technological stage -- a missing link -- between the pounding-oriented stone tool use of a more ancestral hominin and the flaking-oriented knapping of later, Oldowan toolmakers.

"The site at Lomekwi provides an ideal window into early hominin behavior across an ancient landscape. The exposures of sedimentary strata there allow us to place these activities in a detailed environmental context, and to tightly constrain their age" notes geologist Craig Feibel of Rutgers University, a co-author on the study.

The scientists dated the hominin remains by correlating the rock strata where they were discovered with well-known radiometrically dated tuffs (volcanic ash). The tools were studied by Dr. Harmand and her colleague Hélène Roche -- world experts in lithic analysis, the study of stone artifacts from the various Stone Age periods in which they were made -- to interpret physical features and reconstruct the manufacturing techniques used at the prehistoric site, including experimental replication of the tools.

Drs. Harmand and Lewis co-directed the fieldwork and analysis of the findings as part of an international, multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists, paleoanthropologists there are 19 other co-authors on the paper.

The Turkana Basin Institute is a privately funded, non-profit initiative founded by Richard Leakey and Stony Brook University, with a primary research focus on human prehistory and related earth and natural science studies. TBI provides permanent scientific facilities and logistical support to conduct fieldwork and research in the challenging remote environment of sub-Saharan Africa. It's committed to safeguarding the extensive fossil deposits in the region through engagement with local communities, and works with the National Museums of Kenya in scientific institutional partnerships.

Dr. Lewis wanted to be a paleoanthropologist working in East Africa since he was 13, when he read a book about the famous Lucy skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis. Dr. Harmand has always been impassioned about the quest for our origins, and the role of tools in cognitive evolution. She wanted to work in the Cradle of Humankind, where the first chapters of the human story are preserved.

"I have no doubt that these aren't the very first tools that hominins made," says Dr. Harmand, who in addition to her position at Stony Brook is a researcher at France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. "They show that the knappers already had an understanding of how stones can be intentionally broken, beyond what the first hominin who accidentally hit two stones together and produced a sharp flake would have had. I think there are older, even more primitive artifacts out there."

"The paper by Harmand et al describes a truly pathbreaking discovery, and moves the date of the earliest flaked stone artifacts back by almost 3/4 of a million years. In addition, the careful documentation of the Lomekwi flaking techniques in this and forthcoming papers shows them as more primitive than those seen within the time range of Homo. This reaffirms the argument that the repeated and competent manufacture of useful sharp edges, on which we came to depend, may have been a driving factor in the evolution of our genus, both anatomically and cognitively.

"It also confirms an assertion we made in a 2002 paper ["Older than the Oldowan," Panger et al. Evolutionary Anthropology] that the oldest Oldowan artifacts at 2.5+0.15 Ma were too sophisticated to represent the dawn of human technology. Harmand's paper raises questions about who the earliest stone tool makers were -- was Kenyanthropus platyops found nearby in the same time range actually the precursor to Homo as its discoverers suggested? Stay tuned." Alison Brooks, Professor of Anthropology, Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, George Washington University Research Associate, Human Origins Program, Smithsonian Institution

"The Lomekwi stone tools join cut-mark evidence from Dikika in pushing the origins of stone cutting tools back to almost 3.5 million years ago. This raises new questions about the differences between stone tools made by earlier hominins and those by recent humans. The really interesting scientific question is, 'What pushed early hominins to make stone tools at that place and at that point in time? What were they doing with the tools?'" John Shea, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University Research Associate, Turkana Basin Institute.

Human evolution

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Human evolution, the process by which human beings developed on Earth from now-extinct primates. Viewed zoologically, we humans are Homo sapiens, a culture-bearing upright-walking species that lives on the ground and very likely first evolved in Africa about 315,000 years ago. We are now the only living members of what many zoologists refer to as the human tribe, Hominini, but there is abundant fossil evidence to indicate that we were preceded for millions of years by other hominins, such as Ardipithecus, Australopithecus, and other species of Homo, and that our species also lived for a time contemporaneously with at least one other member of our genus, H. neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals). In addition, we and our predecessors have always shared Earth with other apelike primates, from the modern-day gorilla to the long-extinct Dryopithecus. That we and the extinct hominins are somehow related and that we and the apes, both living and extinct, are also somehow related is accepted by anthropologists and biologists everywhere. Yet the exact nature of our evolutionary relationships has been the subject of debate and investigation since the great British naturalist Charles Darwin published his monumental books On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871). Darwin never claimed, as some of his Victorian contemporaries insisted he had, that “man was descended from the apes,” and modern scientists would view such a statement as a useless simplification—just as they would dismiss any popular notions that a certain extinct species is the “ missing link” between humans and the apes. There is theoretically, however, a common ancestor that existed millions of years ago. This ancestral species does not constitute a “missing link” along a lineage but rather a node for divergence into separate lineages. This ancient primate has not been identified and may never be known with certainty, because fossil relationships are unclear even within the human lineage, which is more recent. In fact, the human “family tree” may be better described as a “family bush,” within which it is impossible to connect a full chronological series of species, leading to Homo sapiens, that experts can agree upon.

What is a human being?

Humans are culture-bearing primates classified in the genus Homo, especially the species Homo sapiens. They are anatomically similar and related to the great apes (orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas) but are distinguished by a more highly developed brain that allows for the capacity for articulate speech and abstract reasoning. Humans display a marked erectness of body carriage that frees the hands for use as manipulative members.

When did humans evolve?

The answer to this question is challenging, since paleontologists have only partial information on what happened when. So far, scientists have been unable to detect the sudden “moment” of evolution for any species, but they are able to infer evolutionary signposts that help to frame our understanding of the emergence of humans. Strong evidence supports the branching of the human lineage from the one that produced great apes (orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas) in Africa sometime between 6 and 7 million years ago. Evidence of toolmaking dates to about 3.3 million years ago in Kenya. However, the age of the oldest remains of the genus Homo is younger than this technological milestone, dating to some 2.8–2.75 million years ago in Ethiopia. The oldest known remains of Homo sapiens—a collection of skull fragments, a complete jawbone, and stone tools—date to about 315,000 years ago.

Did humans evolve from apes?

No. Humans are one type of several living species of great apes. Humans evolved alongside orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. All of these share a common ancestor before about 7 million years ago.

Are Neanderthals classified as humans?

Yes. Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were archaic humans who emerged at least 200,000 years ago and died out perhaps between 35,000 and 24,000 years ago. They manufactured and used tools (including blades, awls, and sharpening instruments), developed a spoken language, and developed a rich culture that involved hearth construction, traditional medicine, and the burial of their dead. Neanderthals also created art evidence shows that some painted with naturally occurring pigments. In the end, Neanderthals were likely replaced by modern humans (H. sapiens), but not before some members of these species bred with one another where their ranges overlapped.

The primary resource for detailing the path of human evolution will always be fossil specimens. Certainly, the trove of fossils from Africa and Eurasia indicates that, unlike today, more than one species of our family has lived at the same time for most of human history. The nature of specific fossil specimens and species can be accurately described, as can the location where they were found and the period of time when they lived but questions of how species lived and why they might have either died out or evolved into other species can only be addressed by formulating scenarios, albeit scientifically informed ones. These scenarios are based on contextual information gleaned from localities where the fossils were collected. In devising such scenarios and filling in the human family bush, researchers must consult a large and diverse array of fossils, and they must also employ refined excavation methods and records, geochemical dating techniques, and data from other specialized fields such as genetics, ecology and paleoecology, and ethology (animal behaviour)—in short, all the tools of the multidisciplinary science of paleoanthropology.

This article is a discussion of the broad career of the human tribe from its probable beginnings millions of years ago in the Miocene Epoch (23 million to 5.3 million years ago [mya]) to the development of tool-based and symbolically structured modern human culture only tens of thousands of years ago, during the geologically recent Pleistocene Epoch (about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago). Particular attention is paid to the fossil evidence for this history and to the principal models of evolution that have gained the most credence in the scientific community.See the article evolution for a full explanation of evolutionary theory, including its main proponents both before and after Darwin, its arousal of both resistance and acceptance in society, and the scientific tools used to investigate the theory and prove its validity.

Watch the video: Human Ancestors Crafted Advanced Tools Earlier Than Thought (July 2022).


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