Herodotus Returns

Oldest stone tools and evidence of meat-eating found
August 12, 2010, 9:42 pm
Filed under: Evolution | Tags: , , ,

Big news from the New York Times. Archaeologists in Ethiopia have found an animal bone marked in a way to suggest that early humans used stone tools and ate meat and bone marrow 3.4 million years ago. That’s 800,000 years earlier than previously expected. The implications – check out the article for a full explanation – are pretty enormous. So we’ve all heard of Lucy – also known as Australopithecus afarensis – whose 3.2 million-year-old skeleton was found in Ethiopia in the seventies. Until now, we were convinced that Lucy and her contemporaries were vegetarians and did not use stone tools. No one was supposed to be using stone tools until just before the beginning of the Homo genus (the direct ancestors of modern humans). A species called Homo habilis, who had a much larger brain than any species before, were the first to embrace tool-making. So what to make of this new research in Ethiopia, which shows that the beginning of tool-making did not coincide with the beginning of Homo? One of two things is going on: either Lucy and her people were more advanced and led different lifestyles than we thought, or there was an entirely separate species of early humans who ate meat and made tools that we don’t know about yet. Either way, anthropologists are reeling right now.

Scientists who made the discovery could not have been more surprised. They said the cut marks on a fossilized rib and thighbone were unambiguous evidence that human ancestors were using stone tools and sometimes consuming meat at least 800,000 years earlier than previously established. The oldest confirmed stone tools are less than 2.6 million years old, perhaps only a little before the emergence of the genus Homo.

Some prominent researchers of early human evolution were skeptical, saying the reported evidence did not support such claims.

If true, though, the new find reveals unsuspected behavior and dietary habits of the Lucy species, Australopithecus afarensis. Though no hominid fossils were found near the butchered bones, A. afarensis is thought to be the only species living in this region at the time. Their large teeth with thick enamel indicated they subsisted mainly on tubers and other vegetation.

More from The Times on the discovery.


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