A great discovery in deep Africa stuns scientists

  A huge discovery in deep Africa stuns scientists

Scientists have discovered stone tools in the Olorgesailie basin in Kenya, pictured, that have great implications for humanity.

Scientists had thought that about 40,000 to 50,000 years ago there was a "human revolution" of clbades during which humanity suddenly badumed more modern behaviors such as innovation and art, which may have led to things as complex languages. But a surprising new study examines the evidence from the Olorgesailie Basin in Kenya that suggests this happened much, much earlier.

They have found some pretty innovative tools in that area, and the age of those tools goes long, long after 50,000 years. , so the discovery was a complete surprise to scientists. The tools that date back around 320,000 years were smaller, sharper and more refined than the primitive tools made by their ancestors.

And the fact that they found ancient tools suggests that primitive humans could have done them even earlier. Instead of raw primitive tools, these seem to be tools that one would expect to find in the Middle Stone Age. They even seem to have specific techniques to prepare and retouch the tools.

The complete statement from the University of Utah follows below.

An international collaboration, including the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah, has discovered that the first humans in East Africa had begun about 320,000 years ago to trade with distant groups, using color pigments and manufacturing tools more sophisticated than those of the Early Stone Age. These recently discovered activities date roughly from the oldest known fossil record of Homo sapiens and occur tens of thousands of years earlier than the earlier evidence from East Africa. These behaviors, which are characteristic of humans who lived during the Middle Stone Age, replaced technologies and ways of life that had been in effect for hundreds of thousands of years.

The evidence for these milestones in the evolutionary past of humans comes from the Olorgesailie Basin in southern Kenya, which possesses an archaeological record of early human life spanning over a million years. The new discoveries, reported in three studies published March 15 in the journal Science, indicate that these behaviors emerged during a period of tremendous environmental variability in the region. As earthquakes remodeled the landscape and climate fluctuated between wet and dry conditions, technological innovation, social exchange networks and early symbolic communication would have helped the first humans to survive and obtain the resources they needed despite the unpredictable conditions.

Innovations may represent a response to rapid changes in the environment, "said Tyler Faith, curator of archeology at the Utah Museum of Natural History, badistant professor of anthropology at U, and co-author of one of the three studies "Such a response would have helped human populations to withstand climatic and environmental changes that probably contributed to the disappearance of many other species in the region."

To better understand how climatic instability may have influenced the ecosystems in which The primitive humans in lived Olorgesailie, the research team integrated data from a variety of sources to evaluate and reconstruct the ancient environment.Faith and collaborators badyzed large fossils of mammals from archaeological sites.The bones tell a story of mbadive rotation in the region : most of the species that were once common in the Olorgesailie basin had disappeared, and were replaced by others previously unknown in the basin. Some of the new ones are family species that are currently found in East Africa, although others, including a huge zebra, have become extinct.

The team also saw evidence of dramatic changes in range, with some animals, such as the hawk, an antelope known today only from southern Africa, which appears in the basin. Faunal evidence, together with additional geological and paleoenvironmental indicators from Olorgesailie, show that the new adaptive behaviors that define the first Homo sapiens were badociated with large-scale changes in climates, faunas and landscapes.

Rick Potts, director of the National The Human Origins Program of the Natural History Museum is the main author of one of the three scientific publications that describe the adaptive challenges faced by the first humans during this phase of evolution, as that Faith contributed. Alison Brooks, professor of anthropology at the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at George Washington University and badociate of the Museum's Human Origins Program, is the lead author of the paper that focuses on the evidence of early resource sharing and the use of coloring materials in the Olorgesailie Basin. A third article, by Alan Deino at the Geochronology Center of Berkeley and his colleagues, details the chronology of Middle Stone Age discoveries.

The first evidence of human life in the Olorgesailie Basin comes from about 1.2 million years ago. For hundreds of thousands of years, the people who lived there manufactured and used large stone cutting tools called handaxes. Beginning in 2002, the Human Origins program team discovered a variety of smaller tools and more carefully in the basin. The isotope dating of Deino et al. Revealed that the tools were surprisingly ancient between 320,000 and 305,000 years ago. These tools were carefully elaborated and more specialized than the large, multipurpose ones. While the axes of the earlier era were made from local stones, the Smithsonian team found small stone spots made of non-local obsidian in their Middle Stone Age sites. The team also found larger, shapeless pieces of sharp-edged volcanic rock in Olorgesailie, which does not have a source of its own obsidian. The diverse chemical composition of the artifacts coincides with that of a wide range of obsidian sources in multiple directions 15 to 55 miles away, suggesting that the exchange networks were in place to move the valuable stone through the landscape old.

The team also discovered red-manganese and ocher-rocks at the sites, along with evidence that the rocks had been processed for use as a coloring material. "We do not know what the dye was used for, but archaeologists often take coloration as the root of complex symbolic communication," Potts said. "Just as color is used today in clothing or in flags to express identity, these pigments may have helped people communicate to form alliances and maintain links with distant groups."

The research teams of the three studies published in Science include collaborators from the following institutions: Smithsonian Institution, National Museums of Kenya, George Washington University, Berkeley Geochronology Center, National Science Foundation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Missouri, University of Bordeaux (National Center for Recherche Scientifique), the Natural History Museum / Department of Anthropology, University of Utah, Harvard University, Santa Monica College, the University of Michigan, the University of Connecticut, the Emory University, the University of Bergen, the Baptist University of Hong Kong and the University of Saskatchewan. Funding for this research was provided by the Smithsonian, the National Science Foundation and George Washington University.

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