Ancient humans used stone tools 3.4mn years ago: Scientists
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Last Updated: Thursday, August 12, 2010, 17:06
London: In a discovery that may rewrite the history of mankind, archaeologists have found that our ancient ancestors were using stone tools to butcher animals one complete million years earlier than previously thought.

It has been believed that the first use of tools is one of the pivotal moments of humanity's development some 2.5 million years ago.

But a team of archaeologists were stunned when they found the marks of sharp stone blades on fossilised animals bones believed to be over 3.4 million-year-old.

Dr Zeresenay Alemseged, from the California Academy of Sciences who found the bones in Ethiopia, said they believe the tools were used to carve slices of meat off the bones, and smash them open to reach the nutritious marrow inside.

Dr Alemseged's team made the latest discovery on a fossilised bone unearthed in the Afar region of Ethiopia. The bones were butchered by an squat ape-like ancestor called Australopithecus afarensis.

The best known member of the species is "Lucy" -- who was found in Ethiopia's Awash Valley in 1974 and named after the Beatles' song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lucy was around 3ft 6inches and walked upright.

Dr Alemseged said: "The discovery dramatically shifts the known time frame 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."

Until now, the oldest evidence of tools came from Bouri in Ethiopia where cut-marked bones were dated to around 2.5 million years ago. The oldest known stone tools -- dated to the same period -- were found close by.

According to the scientist, the new findings "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."

The discovery, reported in the journal Nature, is the first evidence that Lucy and her relatives used tools.

Dr Shannon McPherron, of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany said: "Now, when we imagine Lucy walking around the East African landscape looking for food, we can for the first time imagine her with a stone tool in hand and looking for meat.

"With stone tools in hand to quickly pull off the flesh and break open bones; animal carcasses would have become a more attractive source of food.

"This type of behaviour sent us down a path that would lead to two of the defining features of our species- carnivory and tool manufacture and use."


First Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010, 17:06

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