Prehistoric stone flakes 3.3 million years ago predate Homo

Our early human ancestors appear to have had tools hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously thought. A collection of stone flakes shaped over 3.3 million years ago were made before Homo appeared, researchers from Stony Brook University in New York informed.

Scientists say they have discovered twenty anvils and flakes, which were used to help shape the tools, near Lake Turkana in Kenya.

If the dating of these tools is accurate, it would mean that our human ancestors were toolmakers and users 700,000 years earlier than previously estimated – in fact, before the first ‘man’ is supposed to have appeared.

Lake Turkana

The 3.3-million-year-old tools were found near Lake Turkana in Kenya. (Image: Wikipedia)

Palaeolithic archaeologist, Professor Sonia Harmand, who presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society, believes the prehistoric species known as Australopithecines – typified by the fossil ‘Lucy’ – or Kenyanthropus created the tools.

Study leader Prof. Harmand explained that the team came across the tools by accident while they were searching the site where the controversial human relative called Kenyanthropus platyops had been unearthed seventeen years ago.


However, after taking a wrong turn they entered another area, known as Lomekwi 3, just west of Lake Turkana in Kenya, where they saw what appeared to be stone tools on the sand.

Artifacts clearly man-made

Prof. Harmand said:

“The artifacts were clearly knapped (broken or chipped with sharp blows to create flaking) and not the result of accidental fracture of rocks.”

The team dug into the sandy soil and uncovered a series of cores and sharp stones. They also discovered anvils that had presumably been used to hold the cores as the flakes were chipped off. They were able to fit one of the chips back onto its original core.

They went on to discover total of 130 stone tools on the surface. Each stone had distinctive patterns, suggesting it had been shaped and struck by our ancient pre-homo human ancestors.

By measuring how deep the tools were in the sediment of the receding desert lake, the archaeologist were able to estimate fairly precisely when the tools were dropped there – about 3.3 million years ago.

Tools pre-date the first fully-fledged human

Another piece of controversial evidence was discovered five years ago, which suggested that stone tools had been in used a long time before the Homo species supposedly appeared.

Although recent studies have pushed back the origins of Homo to possibly as early as 2.8 million years ago, these tools could not have been made by fully fledged humans – they were made too early, Prof. Harmand explained. quoted Alison Brooks, Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who said:

“The finds are very exciting. They could not have been created by natural forces … [and] the dating evidence is fairly solid.”

Prof. Brooks agrees that the tools could not have been made by homo, suggesting that “technology played a major role in the emergence of our genus.”

Reference: Early tools from West Turkana, Kenya,” Harmand et al. Meetings Version of the Paleoanthropology Abstracts, San Francisco, CA, 14–15 April 2015.