Thursday, August 12, 2010

Early Australopithecines Used Stone Tools

Arizona State University is reporting that research done in Dikika, northern Ethiopia, by Curtis Marean and Hamdallah BĂ©arat has determined that animal bone recovered from sediments that date to 3.4 million years old have cut marks indicating the use of stone tools. That would put these in the hands of Australopithecus afarensis. As Carol Hughes writes:
“This discovery dramatically shifts the known timeframe of a game-changing behavior for our ancestors,” said paleoanthropologist Zeresenay “Zeray” Alemseged, director of the Dikika project and director of anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences.

No hominin remains were found with the animal bone fragments that were uncovered 200 meters away from the site where Alemseged and a team discovered “Selam” (Lucy’s baby) in 2000. Lucy was discovered in 1974 a few miles north, near Hadar, by Donald Johanson, the world renowned ASU paleoanthropologist.

“There is no question that the announcement of stone tool use at 3.4 million years ago will unleash a flurry of controversy and genuine disbelief among some scholars,” said Johanson. “However, I believe the team has presented a convincing case of stone tool use during Lucy’s time.
While Johanson is sometimes given to hyperbole, he is quite correct that this represents a quantum jump in intelligence over any previous hominin form and will generate new models of early hominin behavior. Even if A. afarensis was just scavenging, the fact that they used tools to remove the meat they needed indicates considerable complex thought. The Nature article on this find will be forthcoming.

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