Chinese find suggests human relatives left Africa earlier

In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 photo provided by Zhaoyu Zhu, scientists examine a pointed piece of quartzite rock that was unearthed from the oldest layer of dirt at a site in the Loess Plateau in China. In a report released on Wednesday, July 11, 2018, scientists believe stone tools like this could have belonged to our evolutionary forerunners that lived 2.1 million years ago. (Zhaoyu Zhu via AP)

Stone tools unearthed in China push back the date human relatives left Africa

NEW YORK — Stone tools recovered from an excavation in China suggest that our evolutionary forerunners trekked out of Africa earlier than we thought.

Until now, the oldest evidence of human-like creatures outside Africa came from 1.8 million-year-old artifacts and skulls found in the Georgian town of Dmanisi. But the new find pushes that back by at least 250,000 years.

"It's absolutely a new story," said archaeologist Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, who did not participate in the study. "It means that early humans were getting out of Africa way earlier than we ever realized."

That exit came long before our own species, Homo sapiens, even appeared. The researchers believe the tools were made by another member of the Homo evolutionary group.

The items included several chipped rocks, fragments and hammer stones. The 96 artifacts were dug up in an area known as the Loess Plateau, north of the Qinling mountains, which divide the north and south of China.

Some of them were as old as 2.1 million years, according to the study in Wednesday's journal Nature.

"We were very excited," said Zhaoyu Zhu, a professor at the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, who led the field work. "One of my colleagues suddenly noticed a stone embedded in a steep outcrop. After a short while, more artifacts were found — one after another."

The tools were distributed throughout layers of dirt, suggesting our unidentified ancient relatives came back to the same site over and over, possibly following animals to hunt. Researchers also found bones of pigs and deer, but were not able to provide proof that the tools were used for hunting.

Some experts not involved in the research think that the findings need to be taken with caution.

"I am skeptical," said Geoffrey Pope, an anthropologist from William Paterson University in New Jersey. "I suspect this discovery will change very little."

The problem, he said, is that sometimes nature can shape stones in a way that they look as if they were manufactured by hand. Scientists know, for example, that rocks smashed together in a stream can acquire sharp edges.

But Sonia Harmand, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York, disagrees.

"This could be, frankly, one of the most important (archaeological) sites in the world," said Harmand, who studies stone tools.

___

Emiliano Rodriguez Mega is the AP's Health and Science intern. Follow him on Twitter: @mapache_rm

___

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Related News

8,000-year-old female figurine uncovered in central Turkey

Sep 15, 2016

Archaeologists have uncovered a rare stone figurine of a woman dating back 8,000 years at a dig in Turkey's central province of Konya that an expert says is one of only a handful of statuettes from that era ever found in one piece

Powell discusses secret Israeli nukes in leaked 2015 email

Sep 16, 2016

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Israel's nuclear weapons capability with a friend in a private email exchange last year that hackers leaked this week

Watchdog to probe Comey's, FBI's actions before election

Jan 12, 2017

The Justice Department inspector general has opened an investigation into department and FBI actions before the election, including whether FBI Director James Comey followed established policies in the email investigation of Hillary Clinton

Peaple also read these

Watchdog to probe Comey's, FBI's actions before election

Jan 12, 2017

The Justice Department inspector general has opened an investigation into department and FBI actions before the election, including whether FBI Director James Comey followed established policies in the email investigation of Hillary Clinton

Leonardo DiCaprio foundation backing Utah national monument

Jan 14, 2017

Leonardo DiCaprio's foundation is chipping in to support a new national monument in southern Utah that's been a flashpoint over public land use in the West

The Latest: Syria unveils new Hama statue to Assad's father

Feb 13, 2017

The Latest: Syria unveils statue of late President Hafez Assad in Hama, replacing one destroyed by protesters in 2011

About Us

Science Thread delivers quality and fascinating science and technology content that matters on a daily basis and makes it go viral.

Contact us: sales@sciencethread.com