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The oldest direct evidence of stone tool manufacture comes from Gona (Ethiopia) and dates to between 2.6 and 2.5 million years (Myr) ago1. At the nearby Bouri site several cut-marked bones also show stone tool use approximately 2.5Myr ago2. Here we report stone-tool-inflicted marks on bones found during recent survey work in Dikika, Ethiopia, a research area close to Gona and Bouri. On the basis of low-power microscopic and environmental scanning electron microscope observations, these bones show unambiguous stone-tool cut marks for flesh removal and percussion marks for marrow access. The bones derive from the Sidi Hakoma Member of the Hadar Formation. Established 40Ar–39Ar dates on the tuffs that bracket this member constrain the finds to between 3.42 and 3.24Myr ago, and stratigraphic scaling between these units and other geological evidence indicate that they are older than 3.39Myr ago. Our discovery extends by approximately 800,000 years the antiquity of stone tools and of stone-tool-assisted consumption of ungulates by hominins; furthermore, this behaviour can now be attributed to Australopithecus afarensis.
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, DeutscherPlatz 6, Leipzig 04103, Germany
Shannon P. McPherron
Department of Anthropology, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Concourse Drive, San Francisco, California 94118, USA
Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, PO Box 872402, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287-2402, USA
Curtis W. Marean
Department of Geology, University of South Florida, 4202 E Fowler Ave, SCA 528, Tampa, Florida 33620, USA
Jonathan G. Wynn
University of Texas at Austin, Department of Anthropology, 1 University Station C3200, Austin, Texas 78712, USA
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UPR 2147, 44 Rue de l'Amiral Mouchez, Paris 75014, France
Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA
School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287-6106, USA
Hamdallah A. Béarat
S.P.M. is the project archaeologist. Z.A. is the head of the project and palaeoanthropologist. C.W.M. described and analysed the fossil bone specimens and surface modifications. J.G.W. is the project geologist. Fauna were analysed by Z.A., D.R. (micromammals and GIS), D.G. (biostratigraphy), R.B. (palaeoenvironments). H.A.B. conducted the ESEM/SEI/EDX study. All authors contributed to the writing of this paper.
Competing financial interests
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Until now, the earliest evidence for tool use by our ancestors or their relatives was from two sites in Ethiopia's Awash Valley. Stone tools manufactured about 2.5 million years ago were found at Gona, and cut-marked bones of about the same age were found in the Middle Awash. The suspicion that hominins used tools even earlier has now been borne out by the discovery at nearby Dikika of two bones, one from a large ungulate, with cut and percussion marks consistent with the use of stone tools to remove flesh and extract bone marrow. The marked bones are about 3.4 million years old and are probably the work of Australopithecus afarensis, the only hominin known to have been in the Awash Valley at this time, and famously the species to which the iconic Lucy (from Hadar, Ethiopia) and the juvenile Selam (or DIK-1-1, from Dikika) belong.
How far back in the human lineage does tool use extend? Fossil bones that bear evidence of butchery marks made by stone implements increase the known range of that behaviour to at least 3.2 million ye…