In a new find detailed in Science Direct, for the first time in thirty years, researchers have discovered a new locality, or location, where Oldowan tools have been found. Oldowan tools are the oldest, and most simplistic of the stone tools that we know of our ancestors using, (although cut marks at Lomekwi may show stone tools existing 3.3 million years ago) dating all the way back to Homo habilis at 2.6 million years ago and possibly earlier, pushing the stone toolmakers out of our genus altogether.
These tools are very simple and are made from banging one rock against another and taking the flakes that chip off, in any unpredictable manner, and using what you can. These tools are very important to human evolution, as they allowed our ancestors to do things that were never before seen in the archaeological record. Such as hominins scavenging meat, and increasing their input of protein. While these tools did not transform their makers into hunters, as we would later see with H. erectus they made a huge difference in the behavior of these early humans. Having new sources of food, being able to process them in a much easier way, and even reducing how much chewing we had to do by cutting up our food, we set ourselves down a road we would thankfully never look back on.
First discovered in Olduvai Gorge by Louis Leakey in Tanzania in the 1930s, at Olduvai Gorge, where comes the name. However, despite this being where they were first discovered, this is not the location of the oldest of the Oldowan stone tools, that title belongs to those found at the Gona River, about 2.6 million years ago. These tools changed the ways that early homies went about their daily lives, setting up the stage for further evolution to occur, and some big changes were to follow. But for now, let’s focus on the new finds!
While there have been quite a few sites discovered that have Oldowan tools within their matrix, and other related associations, it has been quite some time since a new locality, or location has been discovered. This is not for lack of trying, but the deserts and Savannah of Africa are unforgiving, not only to the living but to the dead as well. Sometimes, what I think many people do not think about, is after every windstorm, rainstorm, field season, etc. the surface of the land is going to be different. Fossils that were at the surface or near to it could become reburied, or could be flooded out onto the surface, or into a drainage ditch. So it is always important to, as Dr. Lee Berger says, “Never Stop Exploring”.
So keeping that in mind, researchers were looking in the now fertile lands of what is the caldera of the now extinct Kilombe volcanoes, which is situated about halfway between Olduvai Gorge and Lake Turkana. 500 meters higher up than other tools of their kind have been found, in the Kenyan Rift Valley, early Pleistocene hominins were taking advantage of the resources of this fertile caldera, which on and off would have been a lake, providing very enticing opportunities. The fact that we have evidence of a stone tool industry here, means that hominins were spending a good amount of time up here, which really changes what we knew about how hominins of that time, (early Pleistocene) at least at those altitudes.
With almost 100 artifacts found, made almost elusively of locally sourced trachyte (a volcanic rock, made of a large density of feldspar). The fact that the materials used to make the stone tools came from the area in which they were found, is another good indicator that early hominins were spending a good amount of time at these high altitudes. This is in fact, the first habitation found that lies in a rugged environment, that is away from the valley floor, making the location of the finds are particularly interesting. Again, another interesting sign is that there is more for us to learn about what these particular hominins were doing at the time
So, with the first new location in thirty years, this once again shows that there is always more out there, and all we have to do is keep looking. Each find might answer some questions, but it is more likely than not going to create even more questions. But that is the beauty of science.
Until next time friends!