Saturday, November 5, 2011

Selam’s Tools

In 2000, a 3 year old Australopithecus Afarensis female named “Selam” (also nicknamed Lucy’s baby) was found in Dikika, Ethiopia. Discovered by Zeresenay Alemseged, the fossils and remains have been dated at 3.3 mya, 120,000 years older than those of “Lucy”. Found merely miles away from Hadar, Lucy’s site of discovery, her specimen corresponds well with that of Lucy’s. Selam skeleton suggests that she was bipedal as well as adapted for tree climbing. The state of the ancient bones, found 400 kilometres northeast of the capital Addis Ababa, suggest she was buried in a flood, which may also have caused her death.

"It represents the earliest and most complete partial skeleton of a child ever found in the history of palaeoanthropology," says Dr Zeresenay Alemseged

Jumping 10 years to 2010, an equally exciting discovery was made in the Afar region of Ethiopia right by the site where Selam was found. Fossils of ancient bones were unearthed with grooves and cut marks, evidence of the use of tools to cut meat away from the bone. Intriguingly, these fossils date back to 3.4 million years ago. Prior to this find by the California Academy of Sciences, the oldest evidence of butchering with stone tools dates to about 2.5 million years ago.

This significant find shows that stone tools were used much earlier than previously thought. Alemseged says it is likely that Selam herself carried stone shards (microliths) and even could have contributed in the butchering the animal remains.

1 comment:

  1. The evolution of tool use has always been a controversial issue. One thing that interests me the most is how little we tend to address organic tools--i.e. tools that decompose before they can enter the archaeological record, such as wooden implements and plant fibers. Even though we don’t see evidence of permanent tool culture until the genus Homo (though as your post proves, tool use in general is being pushed ever older in our history) I think we can assume biodegradeable tool culture much earlier, perhaps even before the ~6 mya lineage split that led to our earliest ancestors (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) as distinct from the lineage of modern chimpanzees. Some evidence for this speculation is the biodegradeable tool use employed by modern non-human apes--such as termite “fishing” with twigs and using sharp wood “spears” to hunt small mammals hiding in tree cavities.