Discovery in Zaire of 80,000-year-old barbed points and blades is evidence that humans first learned to make sophisticated tools in Africa, not in Europe as many experts believe, a study says.
The African tools, made from bone, come from what may have been a Stone Age fishing camp where families of early humans speared spawning giant catfish and feasted on the banks of a lake, says Alison S. Brooks, a George Washington University archaeologist.
Brooks said the finding is important because it shows “the old idea that there were humans in Africa who looked modern, but who didn’t behave like modern people until they got to Europe … is not correct.” In fact, the researchers concluded, the tools showed up in Africa 66,000 years before they were developed in Europe.
“The finding shows that early humans in Africa invented sophisticated toolmaking long before their European counterparts,” said Brooks. “Barbed points like these appeared in Europe only 14,000 years ago.”
Brooks and her husband, John E. Yellen of the National Science Foundation, are co-authors of a study in today’s academic journal Science.
The old tools were found during years of excavation at seven sites in Semliki River valley on the border between Zaire and Uganda.
Included are double-pointed blades with carved barbs and single points with ridges that could have been used for attachment to spear shafts. All of the bone tools were probably carved from the ribs of large mammals that lived in the area.
Yellen said the researchers were so concerned about the accuracy of dating the discoveries that the tools were subjected to four different age-dating techniques. The ages ranged from 89,000 to 173,000 years old.
Steve Kuhn, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona and a specialist in ancient tools, said the Africa implements came from “much earlier than any of us expected. It makes us rethink some ideas” about how early technology developed.
“The finding shows that changes in technology may not have been as gradual as we thought,” said Kuhn. “It upsets a lot of simple models about technology progress.”
The area where the tools were found suggests that the Stone Age humans camped there only temporarily, probably during the annual spawn of the catfish.