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World's oldest stone tools discovered near Lake Turkana

By Gatonye Gathura | May 18th 2015

Researchers have found what could be the oldest tools ever made by human ancestors around Lake Turkana providing new evidence that Kenya is still the cradle of humankind.

The breakthrough, which has created a loud buzz in international archaeological circles, dates the tools to 3.3 million years ago. That's 700,000 years older than the previously oldest known tools. The oldest tools found, prior to this, were discovered at Gona in Ethiopia. Those tools, called Oldowan variety, were dated to 2.6 million years ago.

The find was made by the West Turkana Archaeological Project team which involved researchers from the National Museums of Kenya at a site named Lomekwi on the western shores of Lake Turkana.

The leader of the new study Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University in New York and her colleagues have suggested these tools be known as Lomekwian technology. Dr Harmand said they are too old and too distinct from Oldowan implements to represent the same technology.

Details of the find will be presented at a press conference on Friday at the National Museums of Kenya. However, the study was presented at the Paleoanthropology Society's annual conference in New York.

In a statement, Harmand described how the team accidentally stumbled on the new find. He said the team was seeking the site where a controversial human relative called Kenyanthropus platyops was discovered in 1998.

They took a wrong turn and stumbled upon another part of the area which had not been studied before. But with the help of a local herdsman, Sammy Lokorodi they spotted the new find.

Harmand had called these unmistakable stone tools on the surface of the sandy landscape and immediately launched a small excavation.

Connect the dots

The researchers, the statement says, later returned for more digging and have now uncovered nearly 20 well-preserved pieces of evidence. An additional 130 pieces have also been found on the surface.

Despite the big find, Harmand said still a lot of work remains to be done to understand what was happening in the period between the new and the previous finds.

"We've jumped so far ahead with this discovery, we need to try to connect the dots back to what we know was happening between the two technologies," Harmand said.

"I have no doubt that these aren't the very first tools that our ancestors made," she added.

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