Chipped stones and cut bones show early hominin presence in North Africa

November 29, 2018

Ancient stone tools and cut-marked animal bones discovered in Algeria suggest that modern humans' ancestors called northern Africa home much earlier than archaeologists once thought, a new study reports. The data indicates a rapid dispersal of stone tools out of East Africa and into other regions of the continent - or, alternatively, a multiple origin scenario of early hominin stone tool manufacture and use in both East and North Africa. East Africa is widely considered to be the birthplace of stone tool use by our ancient hominin ancestors - the earliest examples of which date as far back as about 2.6 million years ago. Similar examples of stone tool manufacture and use have been identified in North Africa, dating to nearly 1.8 million years old and generally considered to be the oldest archaeological materials in all the region. In this report, however, Mohamed Sahnouni and colleagues present new archaeological evidence - Oldowan stone artifacts and fossilized butchered bones, nearly a half-million years older than those previously known. Sahnouni et al. uncovered the artifacts at the site of Ain Boucherit, located in the High Plateaus of eastern Algeria, from two distinct strata estimated to be about 1.9 and 2.4 million years-old. The assemblages contained stone tool manufacturing lithic debris similar to that recovered from the earliest sites in East Africa. Additionally, fossil bones, many showing the hallmark V-shaped gouges and microscopic chipping that suggest butchery and marrow extraction by stone, were also found. According to the authors, the new findings make Ain Boucherit the oldest site in northern Africa with in situ evidence of hominin meat use with associated stone tools and they suggest that other similarly early sites could be found outside of the Eastern Africa Rift.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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