Ancient tools found in North Africa could 'rewrite human origin story'

James Marshall
December 2, 2018

In this report, however, Mohamed Sahnouni and colleagues present new archaeological evidence - Oldowan stone artifacts and fossilized butchered bones, almost a half-million years older than those previously known.

To date the tools, Mohamed Sahnouni, lead author and an archaeologist at Spain's National Research Center for Human Evolution, and his team used three methods.

The bones came from animals including the ancestors of crocodiles, elephants and hippopotamuses.

In the new study published to the journal Science, researchers now reveal similar tools had already made it to the northern tip of the continent not long after, by 2.4 million years ago.

Instead, it suggests that either the first humans spread quickly to other parts of Africa from their East African homeland, or humans emerged simultaneously across a larger region of the continent. "The evidence from Algeria changes the earlier view that East Africa was the cradle of humankind".

Stone tools were found in China earlier this year that dated back 2.12 million years.

An Oldowan core (stone tool) freshly excavated at Ain Boucherit in Algeria, from which sharp-edged cutting flakes were removed.

The study reports the discovery of some 250 primitive tools and 296 animal bones from a site called Ain Boucherit - some 300 kilometers (190 miles) east of the capital, Algiers. "Actually, the whole of Africa was the cradle of humankind".

'Not clear at this time whether or not they hunted, but the evidence clearly showed that they were successfully competing with carnivores for meat and enjoyed first access to animal carcasses, ' Caceres says.

The Ain Boucherit site is 600,000 years older than the previous oldest evidence of hominin presence in the North Africa, which was estimated to 1.8 million years at Ain Hanech, a site located about 200m from Ain Boucherit. Therefore, scientists don't know what species of hominids were at the site, or what ancient cousin of homo sapiens (who appeared much later), used these tools.

"Hominins contemporary with Lucy (3.2 million years old) probably roamed the Sahara, and their descendants might have been responsible for leaving these archaeological puzzles now discovered in Algeria, that are near contemporaries of those of East Africa", Dr. Sahnouni said.

The implements were found near to numerous fossilized bones which had cut marks that clearly indicated the site was used to butcher animals.

Markings on the stones tools prove they were made and used with objective and precision.

Alternatively, it could mean that a "rapid expansion of stone tool manufacture" took place in the early days of humankind's existence.

If so, the team says artifacts as old as those seen in East Africa could one day be found in North Africa, too.

"Future research will focus on searching for human fossils in the nearby Miocene and Plio-Pleistocene deposits, looking for the tool-makers and even older stone tools", said Sahnouni.

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