Unearthed 3m-year-old stone tools raise questions about origin
The discovery of teeth on extinct hominin challenges the predisposition that only the Homo genus created and used complex tools of ancient technology.
Artifacts found at a site in Kenya raise a bunch of questions as they included the oldest known set of stone tools, which are normally used for butchery and pounding plant material. The real surprise came when spotting a so-called Oldowan toolkit viewed as a milestone in human evolution that was assumed to have been created by our ancestors.
Not only that but also a pair of massive molars was discovered belonging to Paranthropus, a muscular-jawed hominin on a side branch of our evolutionary tree. Although other ancient artifacts are currently being discovered, this one made researchers curious.
“The assumption among researchers has long been that only the genus Homo, to which humans belong, was capable of making stone tools,” said Prof Rick Potts, of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, a senior author of the study. “But finding Paranthropus alongside these stone tools opens up a fascinating whodunnit.”
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It is important to point out that the site in western Kenya, Nyayanga, yielded evidence of hominins consuming rather large animals, the size of three individual hippos. Although some skeletons were incomplete, surprisingly, some showed signs of butchery; evidence of flesh being sliced, pounded, or even crushed, indicating that the toolmakers could have possibly pounded meat into a tartare, making it easier to chew. Since these artifacts date to about 2m years before humans discovered and mastered fire, this indicates that the meat was mainly eaten raw.
It was deduced that the tools were used for several functions including cutting, scraping, and pounding the selected food option.
Using radioisotope analysis and a variety of other techniques, researchers were able to estimate the date of the artifacts to be between 2.6m and 3m years old. Although some tools made sense to have been present at the time, Oldowan tools are a different type of sophistication that opened doors of new opportunities in the face of scientists who analyzed food preparation techniques and by which tools were used at the time.
“With these tools, you can crush better than an elephant’s molar can and cut better than a lion’s canine can,” Potts said. “Oldowan technology was like suddenly evolving a brand new set of teeth outside your body, and it opened up a new variety of foods on the African savannah to our ancestors.”
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This discovery prompts researchers to rethink Paranthropus' capabilities who’ve had the preliminary image of being “a stupid grazer on the landscape." Prof Fred Spool of UCL asserts, “The perception is heavily influenced by gorillas and so we think of them as big, fat creatures sitting around eating celery all day. The possibility that Paranthropus made these tools is quite intriguing.”
The real question is: Did the teeth found belong to a victim or a hunter?
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