A team of scientists led by Mohamed Sahnouni, an archaeologist at the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH), has just published in the journal Science an article that breaks with the paradigm that the cradle of humanity is in East Africa.
The work has been based on the archaeological remains found in the sites of the region of Ain hanech (Algeria), the oldest currently known in North Africa.
For a long time, East Africa has been considered the place of origin of the first hominids and lithic technology, because until now very little was known about the first occupations and their activities in the north of the continent.
Two decades of field and laboratory research have shown that early hominids made lithic tools in North Africa that are almost contemporary with the earliest known stone utensils in East Africa, 2.6 million years ago.
Is about artifacts and animal bones with stone tool cut marks, with a chronology estimated at 2.4 and 1.9 million years, found in two levels of the Ain Boucherit deposits.
Fossils of animals such as pigs, horses and elephants, from very ancient sites, have been used by paleontologist Jan Van Der Made, from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, to corroborate age derived from paleomagnetism obtained by CENIEH geochronologist Josep Parés, and electronic paramagnetic resonance (RPE) carried out by Mathieu Duval, from Griffith University.
More than scavengers
The Ain Boucherit artifacts They were made from locally available limestone and flint and included carved edges such as choppers, polyhedra and subspheroids, as well as sharp-edged cutting tools used for processing animal carcasses.
These artifacts are typical of olduvayan lithic technology, known from 1.9 to 2.6 million years ago in East Africa, although those of Ain Boucherit show subtle variations.
"The lithic industry of Ain Boucherit, which is technologically similar to Gona and Olduvai, shows that our ancestors ventured into every corner of Africa, not just its eastern part. The evidence from Algeria changes the previous view that East Africa is the cradle of humanity. In reality, all of Africa has been the cradle of humanity, ”says Mohamed Sahnouni, leader of the Ain Hanech project.
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Ain Boucherit is one of the few archaeological sites in Africa that has provided evidence of bones with cut and percussion marks associated in situ with lithic tools, unequivocally showing that ancestral hominins harnessed the meat and bone marrow of animals of all sizes and skeletal parts, involving skinning, evisceration, and fleshing of the upper and middle extremities.
Isabel Cáceres, taphonomist at IPHES, has commented in this regard that “the effective use of lithic tools with sharp cuts in Ain Boucherit suggests that our ancestors were not mere scavengers. It is not clear at this time whether they hunted or not, but the tests clearly show that they were successfully competing with carnivores and that they enjoyed priority access to meat from the animals. "
Who has made these tools?
Right now, the most important question is who made the stone tools discovered in Algeria. Hominid remains have not yet been found in North Africa that are contemporaneous with early lithic artifacts. In fact, no hominids have been documented in direct association with the earliest known lithic tools in East Africa.
However, a recent discovery in Ethiopia has revealed the presence of the first Homo approximately 2.8 million years ago, very likely the best candidate also for the materials found both east and north of the continent.
For a long time, scientists believed that hominids and their material culture had originated in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa.
Surprisingly, the earliest known hominin dated to approximately 7 million years, and Australopithecus bahrelghazali, from 3.3 million years ago, have been discovered in Chad, located in the Sahara, 3,000 km from the rifts in East Africa.
As Sileshi Semaw, a scientist at CENIEH, who has also participated in this article, explains, “Lucy's contemporary hominins, roughly 3.2 million years old, probably roamed the Sahara, and her descendants may have been responsible for leaving the archaeological challenges now discovered in Algeria, which are almost contemporary with those of East Africa”.
"The next investigations will focus on the search for hominid fossils in nearby Miocene and Plio-Pleistocene sites, in search of the manufacturers of utensils and even older lithic tools ”, concludes Sahnouni.
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