An additional 130 pieces have also been found on the surface, according to the talk.

“The artifacts were clearly knapped [created by intentional flaking] and not the result of accidental fracture of rocks,” Harmand told the meeting.

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That’s 700,000 years older than the oldest-known tools to date, suggesting that our ancestors were crafting tools several hundred thousand years before our genus arrived on the scene.

If correct, the new evidence could confirm disputed claims for very early tool use, and it suggests that ancient australopithecines like the famed “Lucy” may have fashioned stone tools, too.

Until now, the earliest known stone tools had been found at the site of Gona in Ethiopia and were dated to 2.6 million years ago.

These belonged to a tool technology known as the Oldowan, so called because the first examples were found more than 80 years ago at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania by famous paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey.

Then, in 2010, researchers working at the site of Dikika in Ethiopia—where an australopithecine child was also discovered—reported cut marks on animal bones dated to 3.4 million years ago; they argued that tool-using human ancestors made the linear marks.

The claim was immediately controversial, however, and some argued that what seemed to be cut marks might have been the result of trampling by humans or other animals.Without the discovery of actual tools, the argument seemed likely to continue without resolution. In a talk at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society here, archaeologist Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University in New York described the discovery of numerous tools at the site of Lomekwi 3, just west of Lake Turkana in Kenya, about 1000 kilometers from Olduvai Gorge.In 2011, Harmand’s team was seeking the site where a controversial human relative called had been found.The researchers spotted what Harmand called unmistakable stone tools on the surface of the sandy landscape and immediately launched a small excavation.More tools were discovered under the ground, including so-called cores from which human ancestors struck off sharp flakes; the team was even able to fit one of the flakes back to its original core, showing that a hominin had crafted and then discarded both core and flake in this spot.The researchers returned for more digging the following year and have now uncovered nearly 20 well-preserved flakes, cores, and anvils apparently used to hold the cores as the flakes were struck off, all sealed in sediments that provided a secure context for dating.