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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Premodern Precision Tools?
5 May 1999 6:00 pm
Archaeologists have discovered the oldest known evidence for highly skilled stone tool making, dating to more than 2 million years ago. The find, announced in tomorrow's Nature, raises questions about whether hominids predating the genus Homo, to which modern humans belong, could have acquired such skills.
Clearly, some pre-Homo hominids had a rudimentary knack for it, because crude stone tools date back 2.6 million years--about 300,000 years before the appearance of Homo habilis, the earliest undisputed Homo species. But only members of the genus Homo were thought to possess the skills required to manufacture the array of blades, scrapers, and other standard tools used for hunting and gathering.
Maybe not. Excavating in 1997 near Lake Turkana in Kenya, an international team led by Hélène Roche of the House of Archaeology and Ethnology in Nanterre, near Paris, unearthed a cache of stone tools in a 2.34-million-year-old layer of volcanic sediment. Debris was so well preserved that the team could reconstruct more than 60 original stones, mostly chunks of lava, from which tools had been fashioned. The handiwork suggests considerable forethought and precision movements to strike stones together and produce well-crafted implements. "No one has previously identified such skill ... in artifacts that are so old," writes archaeologist James Steele of the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, in an accompanying commentary in Nature.
The findings raise the intriguing possibility that pre-Homo hominids made the tools, says Roche. In the Lake Turkana region, fossils of Homo habilis as old as 2.3 million years have never been found, although traces of older hominids, the australopithecines, are well known from this time. Roche thinks australopithecines may have possessed the toolmaking skills demonstrated by the recent find. "Maybe we just have to face the evidence," she says.