East Africa may lose its crown as 'cradle of mankind'

Rodiano Bonacci
Dicembre 2, 2018

These artifacts are typical of the Oldowan stone technology known from 2.6-1.9 million-year-old sites in East Africa, although those from Ain Boucherit show subtle variations.

The work, led by Prof Mohamed Sahnouni (CENIEH, Spain and CNRPAH, Algeria), involves an global team from different key institutions in Algeria, Spain, France and Australia.

Bones from all sorts of savanna-type animals were found at the ancient site, including mastodons, elephants, horses, rhinos, hippos, wild antelopes, pigs, hyenas, crocodiles. Surprisingly, the earliest known hominin, dated to 7.0 million years, and the 3.3 million years Australopithecus bahrelghazali, have been discovered in Chad, in the Sahara, 3000 km from the rift valleys in the east of Africa.

Instead, it suggests that either the first humans spread quickly to other parts of Africa from their East African homeland, or humans emerged simultaneously across a larger region of the continent.

'The evidence from Algeria has changed earlier views regarding East Africa being the cradle of humankind.

"East Africa is widely considered to be the birthplace of stone tool use by our ancient hominid ancestors - the earliest examples of which date as far back as about 2.6 million years ago", said the report in Science.

The many tools made from locally available limestone and flint, likely sourced from a nearby ancient stream bed, include everything from chopping tools to sharp-edged cutting instruments used for processing animal carcasses.

The technological and typological features of the Ain Boucherit stone assemblages, dominated by cores, flakes and a few retouched pieces are similar to the Oldowan assemblages from the Early Pleistocene sites in East Africa. "Actually, the whole of Africa was the cradle of humankind", he added.

'Not clear at this time whether or not they hunted, but the evidence clearly showed that they were successfully competing with carnivores for meat and enjoyed first access to animal carcasses, ' Caceres says.

While no human remains were found at the dig, the tools and animal bones showed strong evidence of human activity.

Up until recently, the oldest stone tools found in North Africa were 1.8 million years old - again, in Algeria.

Hominin remains have still not been found in North Africa which are contemporary with the earliest stone artifacts.

Sahnouni et al. uncovered the artifacts at the site of Ain Boucherit, located in the High Plateaus of eastern Algeria, from two distinct strata estimated to be about 1.9 and 2.4 million years-old.

At this moment, the most important question is who made the Ain Boucherit stone tools.

While there is a great distance between the two sites, the researchers say it may have been a case of rapid expansion, or even a multiple origin scenario for stone tools.

The archaeologists behind that project said their finds suggested that early humans moved out from East Africa and into what is now Asia.

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