Quirks & Quarks

Oldest Stone Tools Pre-date Humanity

An assortment of 3.3 million-year-old tools discovered in Africa is earlier than any human species, and suggests more primitive ape-like ancestors made and used them.

3.3 million year old stone tools are much older than the oldest human species

Dr. Lewis and colleague Dr. Sonia Harmand examine tools at their excavation site. (Turkana Basin Institute)
Archaeologists have discovered a trove of stone tools in Kenya that, at 3.3 million years old, are older than any early human species discovered to date. The tools, which are large and distinctively worked, include sharp edges, hammers and anvils, and are quite different from those associated with later human species.

Dr. Jason Lewis, co-director of the West Turkana Archeological Project and a research professor with the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University in New York, was part of the team that discovered the tools.

He suggests that the tools might have been used by a pre-human species more like an upright chimp, but we hadn't previously suspected that these species had the cognitive sophistication to make tools. Certainly, though, this suggests that the evolution of tool making pre-dates the evolution of the genus Homo.

Related Links

Paper in Nature
- Turkana Basin Institute release
National Geographic story
Smithsonian.com story
- CBC/AP story