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Archaeologists Found 2.9 Million Year Old Stone Tools in Kenya

Archaeologists discover 2.9 million-year-old Oldowan stone tools and hominin molars at Nyayanga site in Kenya, raising questions about their creators.



From left to right: a percussive tool found in 2016, an Oldowan core found in 2017, and Oldowan flakes found in 2016 and 2017. Nyayanga site in southwestern Kenya. — Photo: TW Plummer, JS Oliver, EM Finestone/Homa Peninsula Paleoanthropology Project via AP

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On the banks of Lake Victoria in Kenya, a team of archaeologists made a groundbreaking discovery of 330 stone tools that date back to an astonishing 2.9 million years ago, which makes them some of the oldest artifacts ever found.

Despite this remarkable discovery, the origins of these tools still remain a mystery, and the species of hominids responsible for creating and using these objects is yet to be determined.

The researchers behind the excavation at the Nyayanga archaeological site announced on Thursday that they uncovered three distinct types of tools at the site.

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‘Paranthropus’ molars recovered from the Nyayanga site in southwestern Kenya. 
— Photo: SE Bailey/Homa Peninsula Paleoanthropology Project via AP

These include hammers and stone cores, which were likely used for grinding plant materials, bones, and meat. Additionally, they found sharp slivers that would have been used for cutting meat. These tools are examples of a Stone Age technology known as Oldovan.

The Oldowan technology, as it is commonly referred to, is a remarkable example of human ingenuity and innovation. It is characterized by the creation of tools made of stone, which revolutionized the lives of hominids at the time. With these tools, they were able to process food and expand their dietary options, allowing them to thrive in their environments.

Oldowan technology has been discovered in several regions across Africa and has been used for at least 1 million years. Its reach even extended beyond Africa, as it was eventually carried to far-off lands such as Georgia and China by the early human species, Homo erectus.

For a long time, it was believed that Oldowan tools were used exclusively by species belonging to the genus Homo, which includes our species and our closest relatives. However, a recent discovery has cast doubt on this theory and has sparked new debates among scientists and archaeologists.

At the Nyayanga site in Kenya, in addition to the 330 stone artifacts, two teeth were discovered. Upon closer examination and analysis, the archaeologists were able to determine that these molars were the oldest fossils ever found of a hominin belonging to the genus Paranthropus. This discovery sheds new light on the evolution of early human species and adds to our understanding of the diversity of hominids that existed millions of years ago.

The genus Paranthropus is of particular interest to scientists and archaeologists, as it represents a side branch of human evolution that diverged from the lineage leading to modern humans. The discovery of these ancient teeth provides crucial evidence of the presence and diversity of hominids in the area and adds to our knowledge of the evolutionary history of our species.

According to Thomas Plummer, the lead author of the Nyayanga survey, the association of the tools found at the site with the genus Paranthropus may lead to a reevaluation of the origins of the oldest Olduvaian tools. This could mean that not just the species belonging to the genus Homo, but also other types of hominids, were utilizing technology to process food.

The discovery of these tools in association with Paranthropus is significant, as it challenges the previously held belief that Olduvaian tools were solely created and used by species belonging to the genus Homo. This revelation has the potential to rewrite our understanding of the technological capabilities and cultural practices of early hominids.

The findings at the Nyayanga site have implications for our understanding of human evolution and the role of technology in shaping the lives of our ancestors. As Plummer stated, this discovery could lead to a reconsideration of the complexities of hominid behavior and the diversity of technological practices in the early stages of human history.

The discovery of the Oldowan stone tools at the Nyayanga archaeological site in Kenya has raised many questions about the identity of their creators. While several hominid species, such as Australopithecus, were known to have roamed the planet at the time, the exact identity of the creators of these tools remains a mystery.

As paleoanthropologist and study co-author Rick Pott explained, “There are several possibilities, and unless we find fossilized hand bones wrapped around a stone tool, the creator of the first Olduvayan tools may be unknown for a long time.” Homo sapiens, our own species, emerged much later, only about 300,000 years ago.

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Fossil hippopotamus skeleton and Olduvayan artifacts at the Nyayanga site in southwestern Kenya in July 2016. — Photo: TW Plummer/Homa Peninsula Paleoanthropology Project via AP

According to the study co-author, Plummer, the discovery of these tools underscores the critical role that technology played in the survival of early humans. Unlike other non-human primate species, which use technology only to aid in foraging, early humans relied solely on technology to survive. The presence of cut marks on some hippopotamus bones found at the site, for example, provides evidence of the earliest recorded instance of large animal consumption.

It is believed that the Oldowan tools were used to extract resources from the environment, such as breaking bones of antelopes to extract their fatty marrow, grinding up plant material, and peeling off the outer husks of tough plant roots. As Plummer explained, “Stone tools allowed, even at this early date, to extract many resources from the environment. If you can take down a hippopotamus, you can take down just about anything.”

This photo provided by the Homa Peninsula Paleoanthropology Project shows the excavation at the Nyayanga site in southwestern Kenya in July 2016. — Photo: JS Oliver/Homa Peninsula Paleoanthropology Project via AP

Source: Reuters/AP

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