A 'new beginning' to the archaeological record?

  • May 28, 2015

Researchers who've discovered what are believed to be the oldest stone tools ever found have proposed the name "Lomekwian" to describe what may mark a "new beginning to archaeological record".

The find was announced earlier this month in the journal, Nature.

The actual discovery was made in Kenya in 2011 by the West Turkana Archaeological Project team, led by Drs Sonia Harmand and Jason Lewis from Stony Brook University in the United States.

The team made the find somewhat serendipitously, after losing their way while exploring a hill on the western shore of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. According to the Turkana Basin Institute, Harmand found the area near the village of Lomekwi interesting and insisted the team stop for a closer look. A local Turkana tribesman, Sammy Lokorodi, is credited with helping the team spot the significant site.

Harmand says the find is significant because they are now the oldest stone tools found in the world.

"They are dated at 3.3-million years old and they show that our ancestors, the hominids, were able to make stone tools before 2.6-million years ago [Oldowan tools found in Gona, Ethiopia], which was, until this discovery, the date of the oldest stone tools in the world," she says in a video for Stony Brook University.

"It’s a major discovery," she continues, "not only because we [now] not only have anatomical or skeletal parts of our ancestors at that time period, but now we have the evidence of what they were able to make and how they were able to make them. We know that these stone tools were made using different techniques than the ones that were used later in time, and these techniques are a bit reminiscent of the techniques that are used by chimpanzees when they want to break open nuts," she said.

In their article in the journal Nature, the team posits that the tools discovered at Lomweki could "represent a technological stage between a hypothetical, pounding-oriented stone tool use by an early hominin and the flaking-oriented knapping behaviour of later, Oldowan toolmakers".

They’ve proposed the name "Lomekwian" to classify these finds, which predate Oldowan tools by some 700 000 years and, in their words, "mark a new beginning to the known archaeological record".


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