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Hominids of the early Paleolithic age were already capable of making complex quartzite instruments

A “never-before-seen” level of complexity has been deduced by a team of researchers at the University of Kent regarding the construction and use of complex stone tools found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and dating back between 1.2 and 1.8 million years. During the early Palaeolithic period, therefore, hominids were already capable, according to the study that later appeared in the Journal of Royal Society Interface, of making various stone instruments that could boast unexpected characteristics for the time.

There is talk of a level of sharpness, durability and efficiency as well as a level of complexity that had never before been noticed in groups of hominids of this period. The studies of the objects found in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, one of the most important sites in terms of paleoanthropological research, were carried out by the researcher Alastair Key , from the School of Anthropology and Conservation of Kent in collaboration with two of his colleagues, Tomos Proffitt, from the Institute of Archaeology of the UCL, and Ignacio from the Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales in Madrid.

Research has shown that these groups of hominids chose quartzite to make their instruments. Quartzite is a very sharp type of stone that requires appropriate and more complex cutting technologies to be worked. Previous studies had already shown that populations of the early Stone Age in Kenya were able to select very durable stone types to make tools but these results show for life with a certain level of sharpness the mastery achieved by the early hominids in making relatively complex stone tools.

Just the choice of a more suitable material than another means that these groups of hominids optimised the performance of their tools according to the material used, and possibly depending on the eventuality, and ensured almost maximised levels of efficiency and ease of use.

“What we were able to demonstrate is that our ancestors were making rather complex decisions about which raw materials to use, and were doing so in such a way as to produce instruments optimised for specific circumstances. Although we knew that later hominin species, including our own, were able to make such decisions, it is surprising to think that populations 1.8-1.2 million years ago did too,” Key explains in the press release published on the University of Kent’s website.

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