Ethiopia: The Swiss Army Knife and the Big Mac is not as recent as it was thought, for scientists have found evidence that human ancestors were using stone tools and consuming meat from large mammals nearly a million years earlier than previously documented.
While working in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, an international team of scientists led by Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged from the California Academy of Sciences found fossilized bones bearing unambiguous evidence of stone tool use-cut marks inflicted while carving meat off the bone and percussion marks created while breaking the bones open to extract marrow.
The bones date to roughly 3.4 million years ago and provide the first evidence that Lucy`s species, Australopithecus afarensis, used stone tools and consumed meat.
"This discovery dramatically shifts the known timeframe of a game-changing behaviour for our ancestors. Tool use fundamentally altered the way our early ancestors interacted with nature, allowing them to eat new types of food and exploit new territories. It also led to tool making-a critical step in our evolutionary path that eventually enabled such advanced technologies as airplanes, MRI machines, and iPhones," Nature quoted Alemseged as saying.
Although the butchered bones may not look like particularly noteworthy fossils to the lay person, Alemseged can hardly contain his excitement when he describes them.
"This find will definitely force us to revise our text books on human evolution, since it pushes the evidence for tool use and meat eating in our family back by nearly a million years. These developments had a huge impact on the story of humanity," he explained.
The new stone-tool-marked fossil animal bones found by Alemseged`s "Dikika Research Project" have been dated to approximately 3.4 million years ago and were found just 200 meters away from the site where Alemseged`s team discovered "Selam" in 2000.
Dubbed "Lucy`s Daughter" by the international press, Selam was a young Australopithecus afarensis girl who lived about 3.3 million years ago and represents the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor discovered to date.
"After a decade of studying Selam`s remains and searching for additional clues about her life, we can now add a significant new detail to her story. In light of these new finds, it is very likely that Selam carried stone flakes and helped members of her family as they butchered animal remains," noted Alemseged.
The location and age of the butchered bones from Dikika clearly indicate that a member of the A. afarensis species inflicted the cut marks, since no other hominin lived in this part of Africa at this time.
These fossils provide the first direct evidence that this species, which includes such famous individuals as Lucy and Selam, used stone tools.
The research is reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature.