Focus on Kenya: following in the steps of our stone-cutter ancestors

Share

The prehistoric mission in Kenya has been set up on the western shore of Lake Turkana in the north of the country since the 1990s. It is currently run by Sonia Harmand. In 2011, a new side to our ancestors was revealed, through the world’s oldest tools.

The discovery of these cut stone tools at the Lomekwi 3 site disproved the consensus that stonecutting was invented by Homo habilis. Estimated to date back to 3.3 million BC, they predate Homo habilis and thus push back the beginnings of our prehistory by 700,000 years. These tools were dated using various techniques to study the layers of sediment in which they were found. It is a discovery which raises many questions as it challenges the dating of the start of the prehistoric period, which is generally associated with the appearance of mankind in 2.8 million BC.

It remains hard to know who in fact made these tools, among those present at the site at the time. But it has now been proven that Homininae more closely related to the apes invented stonecutting. This spectacular discovery provides fresh insights into the cognitive and motor abilities of these species, whose anatomical features we understood relatively well, but we had no idea that they could cut stone and make tools.

This discovery won widespread acclaim and the mission received several awards, as well as a place for the head of mission on Vanity Fair’s list of the “50 most influential French people in the world.”

Image Diaporama - The world's oldest known tools were found at (...)

The world’s oldest known tools were found at the Lomekwi 3 site. Photo: French Prehistoric Mission in Kenya/West Turkana Archaeological Project (MPK/WTAP).

Image Diaporama - The excavation team at the Lomekwi 3 site in (...)

The excavation team at the Lomekwi 3 site in 2013. Photo: MPK/WTAP.

Image Diaporama - Lomekwi 3 site in 2016. Photo: MPK/WTAP.

Lomekwi 3 site in 2016. Photo: MPK/WTAP.

Image Diaporama - In situ stone flake, Lomekwi 3. Photo: (...)

In situ stone flake, Lomekwi 3. Photo: MPK/WTAP.

Image Diaporama - In situ bipolar core (piece of flint), (...)

In situ bipolar core (piece of flint), Lomekwi 3. Photo: MPK/WTAP.

Image Diaporama - Core and flakes from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, (...)

Core and flakes from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya. Nature, 2015. Photo: MPK/WTAP.

Updated : January 2017

Useful links