Man's Oldest Stone Tools Found in Turkana, Kenya

Once upon a time, about 1.8 million years ago, there lived early man at a place called Kokiselei at the western side of Lake Turkana.

Despite living such a long time ago, the man, called Homo erectus, was no fool.

Although today the region is facing starvation, this ancestor of the modern man may have been the inventor of some very advanced tool making technologies.

Many moons after the modern man has evolved, some American and French scientists travelled to the area four years ago in 2007, and are now confirming that the early Kenyan man had developed hand axes, picks and other innovative tools 300,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Turkana Boy

This evidence has been found barely six kilometres away from where anthropologist Richard Leakey’s famous find – Turkana Boy, an upright walking teenager who lived about 1.5 million years ago – was excavated.

Dr Leakey’s excavation was done on Lake Turkana’s western shore and is still the most complete early human skeleton found so far.

“We suspected that Kokiselei was a rather old site, but I was taken aback when I realised that the geological data indicated it was the oldest stone tools’ technology site in the world,” said the study’s lead author, Christopher Lepre, in a statement released by the university on Thursday.

While use of this stone technology in the site had been known, the researchers wanted to established the age of the tools by dating the surrounding sediments.

They chiselled away chunks of the mudstone at Kokiselei to later come up with ages.

At highly sophisticated laboratories in the US, the scientists have been able to date the archeological site to 1.76 million years.

So far, the new findings in Kenya are the oldest advanced stone tools ever found in the world. “These tools represent a great technological leap,” said study co-author Dennis Kent in the statement.

These tools, the statement explains, had chiselled edges that would have helped the upright man butcher elephants and other scavenged game left behind by larger predators or even have allowed the early humans to hunt such prey themselves.

Trying to demonstrate what the tools could do, the scientists say it could whack away at a joint and dislodge the shoulder from the arm, leg or hip. It enabled our ancestors to cut open and dismember an animal for food.

The researchers hypothesise that the skill involved in manufacturing such a tool suggests that Homo erectus was able to think ahead and could have dispersed the technology to the Mediterranean region about a million years ago.

The team is currently excavating a more than two million year-old site in the same general region to learn more about the early period. The study also appears in the journal Nature.

The Turkana Boy is a nearly complete skeleton of a 12-year-old boy who is estimated to have died 1.6 million years ago.

The only bones missing from skeleton discovered in 1984 by a team led by Richard Leakey near Lake Turkana were those of the hands and feet.

Apart from tools, new information from researchers at Harvard University indicates that while the Homo erectus may have given later generations technologies to make tools, it may have also made the misstep of igniting the current craving for processed foods.

Looking into the remains and DNA extracted from fossils of this early man, researchers found the ancestors of humans were avoiding raw meat and consuming processed foods.

According to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had those ancestors not taken that step, humans would be spending almost half of their time eating and would have missed a major evolutionary advancement that allowed them to live longer.

Raw foods were softened with fire and tools by Homo erectus for easier consumption and reduced eating time, the report said.

Without that advancement, humans would spend 48 per cent of their time eating, like ordinary primates do, and wouldn’t have had time to evolve in other areas, researchers said.