Sunday, 23 September, 2018


New Evidence Points to Sophisticated Tools, Distant Trading for Early Humans

New Evidence Points to Sophisticated Tools, Distant Trading for Early Humans New Evidence Points to Sophisticated Tools, Distant Trading for Early Humans
Kristine Garrett | 17 March, 2018, 22:14

An global team of anthropologists has discovered that early humans in East Africa had - by about 320,000 years ago - begun trading with distant groups, using color pigments and manufacturing more sophisticated tools than those of the Early Stone Age. These materials are used by modern people to color bodies, clothes and objects, often to symbolize status, identity or group affiliation.

That might seem like an obvious thing that humans could do, but the earliest known fossils of homo sapiens come from around 300,000 years ago when homo erectus was the dominant hominid, and nobody assumed they were capable of that so early.

According to three new studies, early humans in East Africa had - by about 320,000 years ago - begun using color pigments and manufacturing more sophisticated tools (right) than those of the Early Stone Age handaxes, tens of thousands of years earlier than previous evidence has shown in eastern Africa.

Evidence for these milestones in humans' evolutionary past comes from the Olorgesailie Basin in southern Kenya, which holds an archaeological record of early human life spanning more than a million years.

For decades, the consensus was that Homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago in Africa, with modern humans emerging 100,000 years ago and leaving their ancestral continent around 50,000 years ago.

Researchers also found that the inhabitants were using colour pigments earlier than had been believed.

The diverse chemical composition of the artifacts matches that of a wide range of obsidian sources in multiple directions 15 to 55 miles (24-88.5 km) away, suggesting exchange networks were in place to move the valuable stone across the ancient landscape.

The new discoveries, reported in three studies published in the journal Science, suggest that the trading emerged during a period of tremendous environmental upheaval in the region.

The times were turbulent, with constant earthquakes upending the landscape, changing the geology of rivers, lakes and plains.

"They may have actually been the behaviours that distinguished our lineage/gene pool from other early human species". For hundreds of the thousands of years, people living there made and used large stone-cutting tools called handaxes (left). On top of that, these new tools (considered to be from the "Middle Stone Age") were significantly more advanced than the older, clunkier handaxes (from the Acheulean period) found in the area, meaning that these early humans were already innovating and learning how to make better tools. The tools were dated by isotopes - which placed their construction between 320,000 and 305,000 years ago.

The team also found larger, unshaped pieces of the volcanic stone at Olorgesailie, which has no obsidian source of its own.

New tools appeared at this time - small, sharp blades and points made from a dark volcanic glass known as obsidian - indicating long-distance contacts and trading among the populations.

In addition to the use of obsidian tools and the trading of resources between groups of early humans, the researchers also dug up proof that could suggest the people of Olorgesaile were extracting pigment from "brightly colored" red and black rocks they brought back from their long trips to collect materials.

The beauty of this multidisciplinary research effort is that it enables researchers to understand what the environment of these ancient humans looked like.

Geological, geochemical, paleobotanical and faunal evidence indicates that an extended period of climate instability affected the region, beginning around 360,000 years ago. According to researchers, these conditions would have prompted human groups to adapt their tools and social structures to improve the chances of securing resources during times of scarcity.

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