Sometimes being an archeologist is not only about brushing off dust from stones for years without finding anything significant; sometimes, it’s more about making one of the most exciting finds ever! A team led by Sonia Harmand has been working on a project close to Lake Turkana, Kenya, and one morning in July 2011 – and actually by accident after taking the wrong turn – they discovered stone tools that they knew had to origin from a period dating 3.3 million years back in time. That’s 700 000 years older than any other known handmade artifacts! It’s now been called a “new beginning to the known archaeological record”.
So before us, there must have been others, presumably an ape-like hominin called Kenyanthropus platyops, or it could also be Lucy that was found in Ethiopia, and her other Australophitecus friends , or … there might have been us, only researchers have yet to find any proof for any Homo-species dating that back far.
Sonia Harmand works for the Stony Brook University in New York, and is the lead author of the study, published May 20 in the journal Nature. Her team has used the following years to confirm and carefully document all the facts and procedures scientifically, knowing very well that making these kind of statements require evidence that withstands the pressure.
We can no longer with certainty claim that making stone tools was a unique feature for our own human lineage, that would sequentially precede Homo sapiens, since known history only predates the Homo species back to half a million years before the tools were made. Humans may need to step aside with humility and admit that other species also could have had the cognitive ability and manual dexterity required to make stone tools.
The archeologists in the team have found 149 artifacts so far, and the accidental finding was rather quickly big news – they were found above a volcanic ash layer that dates back about 3.3 million years, thus creating quite a bit of adrenalin amongst the team members, being well acquainted with human history as they all were.
“This pretty much rewrites the text book explanations of human evolutionary history, and this really opens the door and suggests that there may be a much deeper archaeological record than we ever imagined”, an archaeologist from the University of Queenland, Dr Tyler Faith, explains.
The director of human origins at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Richard Potts, agrees: “Harmand’s team shows us just what this even simpler altering of rocks looked like before technology became a fundamental part of early human behavior.”
Image: Ashley Van Haeften