Two bones bearing the scars of tool use, discovered in Dikika, Ethiopia. Credit: Dikika Research Project.

Two bones bearing the scars of tool use, discovered in Dikika, Ethiopia. Credit: Dikika Research Project.

Although the oldest sexual toy may have dated from the stone age, a newly published discovery of two fossils bearing the mark of tool used to scrub off the meat  dating back  3.39 million years could be enough to make anthropologists revise their current text books. What makes this study potentially monumental is the fact that it could prove tool use among our ancestors was used far earlier than specialists believed, dethroning the Homo habilis as the first hominid to use tools and making way for the Australopithecus afarensis (around Lucy‘s time)- this pushes back human tool use by approximately 800,000 years.

The dug was made in Dikika, Ethiopia by Shannon McPherron, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary, who states “It’s never been shown before that Lucy used stone tools, and it’s never been shown before that Lucy ate meat.”

Scientists have long believed that use of tools and meat consumption is linked with larger brains as a consequence of the protein influx, but this latest study published in Nature suggests that this isn’t at all the case, seeing how Australopithecus afarensis has a very undeveloped genus.

“By pushing the date for tool use and meat eating in our lineage back by around 1 million years, our finds show that tool use and meat eating was not unique to (the genus) Homo, a widely accepted notion in our field,” co-author Zeresenay Alemseged states.

“Also, by showing that A. afarensis was involved in these activities, we showed that you do not need a large brain to do this,” added Alemseged, director of the Department of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences.

“This is a kind of find that will force us to revise our human evolution and anthropology textbooks.”

With all this mind, a hint of a problem still arises – no actual tools were found, only tool marks. Did the Australopithecus build their own tools or did they just used flint shaped rocks? Whatever’s the case an amount of planning is required and that may be evidence enough, unless of course this just an isolated incident.

“It potentially opens up a new period in human evolution where our ancestors were experimenting with stone tools, laying the foundation for the development we see at around 2.5 million years ago,” McPherron said.

UPDATE: Though the find still remains the earliest attested hominid tool use, a study that came only a year after the presently discussed one reports one a 600,000 old tool-mill made by a Homo Erectus community.  The discovery was dated using pedostratigraphic analysis, optically stimulated luminescence, and magnetostratigraphic analysis which authenticated the aforementioned period.