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Archaeologists discover 2.4-million-year-old tools in North Africa

02 December 2018

The work, led by Prof Mohamed Sahnouni (CENIEH, Spain and CNRPAH, Algeria), involves an worldwide team from different key institutions in Algeria, Spain, France and Australia.

"The different methods provided consistent results and helped to chronologically constrain the lower and upper archaeological levels to about 2.4 and 1.9 millions years, respectively".

East Africa hasn't yet lost its status as the cradle of humanity - earlier tools dating back at least 2.6 million years have previously been found in that part of the continent. Such implements appear to have spread from East Africa earlier than scientists first thought.

Nevertheless, a recent discovery in Ethiopia has shown the presence of early Homo dated to 2.8 million years, most likely the best candidate also for the materials from East and North Africa.

Regardless, the long-standing view has been that once hominins, or members of the human family, invented stone tools in east Africa, they didn't travel far with them until 1.8 million years ago (or, more controversially, 2 million years ago, in China) when tools turn up in Algeria, Georgia, and China.

"The lithic industry of Ain Boucherit, which is technologically similar to that of Gona and Olduvai, shows that our ancestors ventured into all corners of Africa, not just East Africa".

These Oldowan stone artifacts (and those found later) display distinctive markings, or flakes, that give the tools a sharp edge that can be used for cutting. "Actually, the whole of Africa was the Cradle of Humankind". "It is not clear at this moment whether they hunted, but the evidence clearly shows that they were successfully competing with carnivores and enjoyed first access to animal carcasses".

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No human remains were found, which means scientists can not know what species of hominids were there and used the tools.

The implements were found near to numerous fossilized bones which had cut marks that clearly indicated the site was used to butcher animals.

The Acheulean tool technology period - up to 1.76 million years ago - featured large stone hand axes made from flint and quartzite.

"Based on the potential of Ain Boucherit and the adjacent sedimentary basins, we suggest that hominin fossils and Oldowan artifacts as old as those documented in East Africa could be discovered in North Africa as well".

"Hominins contemporary with Lucy (3.2 million years old) probably roamed the Sahara, and their descendants might have been responsible for leaving these archaeological puzzles now discovered in Algeria, that are near contemporaries of those of East Africa", Dr. Sahnouni said.

The archaeologists behind that project said their finds suggested that early humans moved out from East Africa and into what is now Asia.

'Future research will focus on searching hominin fossils in the nearby Miocene and Plio-Pleistocene deposits searching for the tool-makers and even older stone tools, ' Dr. M. Sahnouni says.

Archaeologists discover 2.4-million-year-old tools in North Africa

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