A team of scientists led by Mohamed Sahnouni, an archaeologist at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), has just published a paper in the journal Science which broke with the paradigm that the birthplace of humanity was located in East Africa, based on archaeological remains found on sites in the Ain Hanech (Algeria) region, the oldest currently known in northern Africa.
For a long time, East Africa had been regarded as the place of origin of early hominin and lytic technology, because until now, very little was known about the occupation and activities of the first hominins in the northern continent. Two decades of field and laboratory research directed by Dr. Sahnouni has shown that the ancestors of hominins really made stone tools in near contemporary Africa with the earliest stone tools known in East Africa dated 2.6 million years.
These are stone artifacts and animal bones with cutting marks with stone tools, with estimated chronology of 2.4 and 1.9 million years, respectively, found on two levels on the Ain Boucherit site (within Ain Hanech study), which is based on using Paleomagnetism, Electron Spin Resonance (ESR), and Biochronology from large mammals excavated along with archeological material.
Animal fossils such as pigs, horses and elephants, from very ancient sites, have been used by paleontologist Jan van der Made, from the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, to strengthen the age produced by Paleomagnetism, obtained by the geochronologist CENIEH. Josep Parés, and ESR, were discovered by Mathieu Duval, from Griffith University.
Artifacts from Ain Boucherit are produced from locally available limestone and stones and include faces worked on helicopters, polyhedra and subspheroids, and sharp-edged cutting tools used to process animal carcasses. These artifacts are typical of the Oldowan stone technology known from the site 2.6-1.9 million years in East Africa, although those from Ain Boucherit showed subtle variations.
"Ain Boucherit's lithic industry, which is technologically similar to Gona and Olduvai, shows that our ancestors traveled to all corners of Africa, not just East Africa. Evidence from Algeria changed the previous view that East Africa was the birthplace of humanity. Actually, all of Africa is the birthplace of humanity, "said Sahnouni, leader of the Ain Hanech project.
Not only scavengers
Ain Boucherit is one of the few archaeological sites in Africa that has provided bone evidence with signs related to in situ cutting and percussion with stone tools, which shows clearly that these ancestral hominins exploited meat and marrow from animals of varying sizes and parts of bones, which implies skinning, evisceration and defection of the upper and middle extremities.
Isabel Cáceres, taphonomist at IPHES, commented that "the effective use of sharp tools at Ain Boucherit shows that our ancestors were not just scavengers. It is not clear at this time whether they were hunted, but the evidence clearly shows that they managed to compete with carnivores and enjoy first access to animal carcasses. "
At this time, the most important question is who made stone tools found in Algeria. Hominin remains still not found in contemporary North Africa with the earliest stone artifacts. In fact, or even hominins have not been documented in direct connection with known first stone tools from East Africa.
However, recent discoveries in Ethiopia have shown the presence of early 2.8 million years Homo, most likely the best candidate for ingredients from East and North Africa.
Scientists think for a long time that hominins and their material culture came from the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. Surprisingly, the earliest known hominins, originating from 7.0 million years, and 3.3 million years Australopithecus bahrelghazali, has been found in Chad, in the Sahara, 3000 km from rift valleys in eastern Africa.
Like Sileshi Semaw, a scientist at CENIEH and co-author of this paper, explains that contemporary hominins with Lucy (3.2 million years), may roam over the Sahara, and their offspring may be responsible for leaving this archaeological puzzle now found in Algeria , which was close to contemporaries from East Africa.
"Future research will focus on the search for human fossils near the Miocene and Plio-Pleistocene deposits, looking for tool makers and even older stone tools," concluded Sahnouni.