Ancient Tools Discovered in Kenya Point to Early Humans' Intelligence

Friday, 16 March 2018 - 6:05PM
Friday, 16 March 2018 - 6:05PM
Ancient Tools Discovered in Kenya Point to Early Humans' Intelligence
< >
Smithsonian/Human Origins Program
For a long time, historians believed that the first seeds of modern human ingenuity and art began 40,000 - 50,000 years ago during a period called the "Human Revolution".

But perhaps we haven't been giving humanity enough credit. According to new research published in Science, a collection of complex and colorful tools were found in southern Kenya that fly in the face of that model, given that they're dated at about 320,000 years old.

The tools came from about five excavation sides around the Olorgesailie Basin in Kenya, and the discovery wasn't just that they were advanced - because it was mostly simple pointed blades, not the fancy can openers of the modern era - it was that they were made from materials like obsidian that weren't at all local to the area, and were artificially colored with non-local materials.

This would suggest that these early humans were trading among each other about 100,000 years earlier than anyone thought. 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

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 Rick Potts, the director of the National Museum of Natural History's Human Origins Program and one of the lead researchers, who said the following in a statement:

Opening quote
"The earliest evidence for Homo sapiens in eastern Africa is about 200,000 years ago, so this Middle Stone Age evidence we're finding is significantly before that. [Early humans] were rare in their environment based on the fossil record itself, but left these durable calling cards behind, these stone tools. So we know a lot more about the transition in behavior than we do the timing or who actually made these tools."
Closing quote

All of this seems to confirm a prediction made by another of the lead researchers, Alison Brooks, that the current "Human Revolution" model was too Eurocentric and ignored the fossils and artifacts found in Africa.

Now that Brooks and the others have found these tools, it's clear that humans have been a clever bunch for a long, long time.
Science News