Long before the appearance on Earth of the first Homo sapiens, their ancestors already used stone tools made by themselves. Archaeologists have spent decades trying to find out when and what ancestors were pioneers in this manufacturing practiceand in this search they have already managed to go back several million years in time.
The appearance of the first stone tools is linked to the appearance of the first species of the genus Homothe taxonomic genus that groups us with species such as Neanderthals (homo neanderthalensis), H. predecessor, H. ergasteror H. habilis. So much so that for a time both concepts were linked and it was the manufacture and use of stone tools that made researchers classify humans as such.
The archaeologist Jordi Serrallonga Atset, a professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, recently pointed out a significant example of this in an article in The Conversation. He explained how the discovery of Paranthropus boisei it had originally been linked to the find in its tool environment. This earned him the provisional name of Zinjanthropus boiseithe “human of the Zinj”.
Years after the discovery of a species in that same environment, H. habilisimplied that the authorship assigned to those tools changed, and the “Zinj man” ceased to be “man” or “human” to become Australopithecus boisei (it would be renamed again later as Paranthropus boisei).
But this idea of associating humans with the use of tools would fail. Serrallonga Atset himself explained in the same article the change in the paradigm, and it is that we soon end up discovering among the other existing species of hominids (specifically in chimpanzees) the use of tools. Not in this case tools made of stone but versions as simple as simple wooden sticks.
Once this barrier is overcome, we can return to the key questions, when these tools began to be manufactured and who was responsible. As it could not be otherwise, although there are several “candidates” for the first tools of humanity (or proto-humanity if we prefer), they have all been found in Africa, the cradle of the human being.
In 2016, a group of archaeologists discovered the so-called “Olduvai toolbox” in Kenya, a total of 330 artifacts discovered along with fossilized animal remains. The find is not far from where the remains of the Paranthropus boisei and various other sets of tools, the oldest of which had been dated 2.6 million years ago.
The new discovery made archaeologists go back even further. Dating estimated you between 2.6 and 3 million years old, probably about 2.9 million years old. The timeline now fits with a previously dismissed possibility: that the Paranthropus boisei were after all capable of making and using stone utensils.
Also in Kenya, although further north, west of Lake Turkana, another toolkit was found between 2011 and 2014. This one also contained more than a hundred artifacts created by humans or their closest ancestors. The archaeological site reaches 3.3 million years oldso these remains could turn out to be older than the Olduvai tools.
Its authors are, in the same way, a mystery. One of the hominins present in the area at the time was the Kenyanthropus platyops. Nick Taylor, member of the team of archaeologists responsible for the find pointed out this possibilitywithout ruling out other candidates, such as the Australopithecus afarensis, a species widespread over a wide region in eastern Africa.
maybe we may never know the when and who, let alone the how of stone tool making in prehistory. But thanks to small discoveries we are getting an idea of what this long process was like.
Along the way we are discovering new things, learning little by little what it is that makes us human and banishing preconceived ideas thanks to the scientific method.
This is also about more than just tools. Is about to unearth, little by littlea genealogy of the human being, of the human species, or almost, that inhabited this planet before us and in the times in which we began to take our first steps.
In Xataka | Before us there were other human beings. And none is so mysterious today as the man from Rhodesia