A paper published in Science describes a 3 million-year-old discovery that may rewrite the history of intelligent life on earth that was uncovered at a site in Nyayanga, Kenya.
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For years, researchers have believed that human ancestors in Ethiopia were the first beings to use crude stone tools, about 2.6 million years ago. But a recently-published study introduces new findings that suggest tool-making occurred over 300,000 years prior, in a completely different location, and by a species that isn’t even an ancestor to modern humans.
So-called Oldowan tool-making is often portrayed as something of a landmark in history, allowing for efficient processing of food. The advent of these advanced (at the time) tools is widely seen as a milestone in the development of culture, and has remained a touchstone in scientists’ investigations into the timeline of the emergence of human intelligence.
The paper in Science—which was co-authored by researchers spanning various institutions—describes a site in Nyayanga, Kenya that dates to 3.032 to 2.581 million years ago. Archeologists have been excavating the site since 2015 and discovered 330 artifacts (including tools), 1776 bones, and two hominin molars—but not belonging to any direct human ancestors.
“With these tools you can crush better than an elephant’s molar can and cut better than a lion’s canine can,” Rick Potts, senior author of the study and the National Museum of Natural History’s Peter Buck Chair of Human Origins said in a press release. “Oldowan technology was like suddenly evolving a brand-new set of teeth outside your body, and it opened up a new variety of foods on the African savannah to our ancestors.”
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The researchers were able to date the tools back to about 2.9 million years ago, much earlier than previous records of stone tool use.
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