Stone tools reveal ancient seafood diet

May 28, 2000

Stone tools found on an Eritrean fossil reef in eastern Africa suggest that early humans lived in coastal environments as far back as 125,000 years ago.

Professor Mario Gagnon of anthropology studied tools discovered by an international team on a fossil reef terrace near the village of Abdur on Eritrea's Red Sea coast. Radiometric dating of the tools shows they are roughly 10,000 years older than the estimated age of tools found in South Africa - up until now the oldest known coastal site in Africa containing fossil remains of early human implements.

"The stone tools from Abdur signal a new, widespread adaptive strategy in early human behaviour which spread from one end of Africa to the other between 115,000 and 125,000 years ago," Gagnon says.

The geographic origin of modern humans is the subject of an intense, on-going debate among anthropologists. These Eritrean tools may help in solving the mystery. The discovery of these implements in a fossil reef - humanity's "first oyster bar" - is unusual, Gagnon says. "The tool-bearing reef has a rich population of marine organisms such as clams, scallops, snails and oysters and the tools were used to harvest and eat these mollusks and crustaceans."

The research team hopes its discovery will encourage further exploration of African coastal sites for evidence of human activity. Their paper was published in the journal Nature in May.
CONTACT: Professor Mario Gagnon, department of anthropology, (416) 978-4004, or Michah Rynor, U of T public affairs, (416) 978-2104,

University of Toronto

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