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Tools and slaughterhouses in Algeria are 2.4 million years old

Ain Boucherit, a place in Algeria, has given many stone tools, like this Oldowan core. The tools are up to…

Ain Boucherit, a place in Algeria, has given many stone tools, like this Oldowan core. The tools are up to 2.4 million years old and found with hundreds of animal bones, many of which show signs of slaughter.

Stone tools and animal bones with cutting marks, excavated in a place in eastern Algeria, are up to 2.4 million years old, the oldest archaeological evidence in North Africa and one of the oldest known examples of slaughter. The findings suggest that hominins, members of the human family tree, lived in the region almost half a million years earlier than previously believed.

Paleo anthropologists had long believed that utilization of tools among hominins began in East Africa. The oldest stone tools, 3.3 million years old, have been found there, as well as many other examples that show how their manufacturing has evolved over millions of years. For example, the oldest widespread tool technology, Oldowan, seems to have come up in the region for at least 2.6 million years ago.

Researchers once believed on the basis of initial discoveries that the Oldowan style originated from Homo habilis the earliest known member of our family. However, it seems that tooling technology can be preceded by that type and may be an innovation of a late Australian opit, ancestor of Homo . Oldowan style eventually spread as far as China, but in many places it is unclear what homininart did the tools.

In 2013, researchers announced the discovery of North Africa’s earliest examples of Oldowan tools and their use in slaughtered animals, at Ain Hanech, a place in northeastern Algeria. The find was 1.8 million years old.

The New Oldest North African Butchers

Today, several of the same researchers describe much older Oldowan tools and animal bones with distinctive stone tools and smash marks. The artifacts come from Ain Boucherit, near Ain Hanech and part of the same sediment pool created by a braided river system (a network of varying channels across a river plain).

The new findings, from two separate deposits, are 1.9 million and 2.4 million years old. In the older deposit, the team found 17 artifacts, including kernels and flakes, thin stones interrupted to create sharp edges on the core tools.

Artefacts were significantly more rich in the deposit dated 1.9 million years ago: Researchers recovered more than a hundred kernels, dozens of flakes and many fragments. Tools from both deposits were mostly limestone with some made of flint; Both materials, say the authors, were likely to be collected from nearby canal beds.

A map published by the authors shows Ain Boucherit in Algeria along with a selection of other important Oldowan sites in Africa. (Credit: M. Sahnouni)

The new findings are significant for some reasons. First, they push back hominin’s arrival to North Africa and the Mediterranean for hundreds of thousands of years. The Oldowan tools also suggest that, if the style originates in East Africa, it spread more quickly than once thought.

Alternatively, say the authors, the age and location of the tool can be interpreted as evidence supporting a theory of multiple origins: Some paleoanthropologists believe that the tool method arose independently in many places in Africa.

Meat of matter

An animal leg excavated from Ain Boucherit in Algeria (top image) has cut-outs made of a stone tool (close-up of an area outlined in black), indicating an early hominin presence in the region. [Credit Rating: I. Caceres]

The age of deposits was determined using both the electron spin resonance, which measures how many electrons have accumulated in certain materials since funeral and magnetostratigraphy dating from known periods of flip-flop in the polarity of the earth. The dates obtained are also consistent with time frames for animals identified from the legs upgraded during the excavations.

Almost 300 bones were found in each of the two deposits belonging to the distant relatives of modern horses and gazelles. Parts remain of at least one elephantlike Anancus also appeared, although the majority of the legs contained in both deposits belonged to small and medium-sized animals.

In both deposits, bone bones from animals were the most common remnants found. Several of the legs are marked with cutting or crushing using stone tools, which corresponds to rinsing, defrosting and surplus value, all associated with slaughter of a carcass. The findings make Ain Boucherit one of only three famous places, all in Africa, where butchers and stone tools were found together far back in time.

The research is published today by Science .

Exacavations at Ain Boucherit in Algeria have provided evidence of stone tools and meat processing up to 2.4 million years ago. (Credit: M. Sahnouni)

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