The Oldest Tools Ever Found Outside of Africa

For hundreds of thousands of years, small bands of ancient humans ranged across a sandy, hilly grassland. They survived on the mammals around them—perhaps hunting them, perhaps scavenging for their carcasses—and their tools were rudimentary, razor-sharp blades formed from chipped stone. They lived in fear of the big cats and large predators who stalked their children.

And they were isolated. They likely rarely encountered other creatures who looked like them, beyond the 25 or 50 with whom they lived.

This was the strange existence of early human ancestors on the savannah. It’s a classic scene—the image of hunter-gatherers roaming grasslands is just as at home in a biology textbook as it was in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But according to new research, this scene did not play out only in Africa.

Our ancient ancestors lived in China, too.

Ancient humans appear to have reached northwestern China about 2.1 million years ago, and they lived there for hundreds of thousands of years, according to a new study published Wednesday in Nature. It suggests that hominins migrated out of Africa much earlier, and spread much farther east, than once thought.

Previously, the earliest ancient-human presence outside of Africa had been a homo erectus fossil found in a cave in Dmanisi, Georgia. It was dated to 1.85 million years ago. This newly discovered community of early humans lived roughly 250,000 years earlier than that group, and did so 3,500 miles to the east.

“We need to rethink when hominins first left Africa,” said Robin Dennell, an archeologist at the University of Sheffield and one of the authors of the paper. “We have shown that the earliest evidence from outside Africa is at least 2.1 million years old, and therefore 250,000 years—or 10,000 generations—older than Dmanisi in Georgia.”

“It’s so old that the earliest members of our own genus, the genus homo, may have migrated out of Africa,” said Michael Petraglia, a professor of anthropology at the Max Planck Institute who was not involved in the new study. These creatures would have likely been homo erectus; or possibly even homo habilis, the first ancient primate to be called homo.

Petraglia emphasized that the discovery also changes our understanding of Ice Age China. “They’ve added on something like 400,000 years of prehistory [in East Asia]—and it’s not every day you get to do that,” he told me. “Some of the oldest sites in China were previously …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Science

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