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Not Pyramids of Giza or Stonehenge, This May be World's Oldest Archaeological Site

Representative Image showing pyramids of  Giza. Credits: Getty Images via Canva.

Representative Image showing pyramids of Giza. Credits: Getty Images via Canva.

The shards of scarred rock, discovered in a dried-up riverbed in Kenya, appear to be archaic hammers and cutting tools and predated the previous record-holder by about 700,000 years.

About 3.3 million years ago, a lakeside rock began to be chiselled away by a human hand. This chipping eventually transformed the rock into a tool, perhaps used to prepare meat or crack nuts. And this technological achievement occurred long before humans appeared on the evolutionary scene. The site of these tools, known as Lomekwi 3, is located on a low slope in West Turkana, Kenya, and also contains hominin bones. The findings of these earliest stone tools yet unearthed were published in 2015 in Nature journal. The shards of scarred rock, discovered in a dried-up riverbed in Kenya, appear to be archaic hammers and cutting tools and predated the previous record-holder by about 700,000 years. Though it is unknown who produced the tools, the discovery is the most persuasive in a long line of evidence indicating toolmaking originated before any Homo genus members roamed the Earth. Sonia Harmand and Jason Lewis of Stony Brook University’s Turkana Basin Institute led the study. “Lomekwi 3 is the world’s oldest known archaeological site," research co-author Lewis told Live Science.

However, not everyone believes the stone tools discovered on the site are ancient. Though all scholars concur that Lomekwi 3 is a disputed archaeological site, as per various reports.

Lewis collaborated with his wife and co-author Sonia to organise a field trip in Kenya for the West Turkana Archaeological Project in July 2011. They were hunting for artefacts that were close in age to a contentious 3.5 million-year-old species found by Meave Leakey’s team years earlier.

Meanwhile, two more possibilities from Ethiopia, each of whom is at least 2 million years old, are also in the running. These sites are Ethiopia’s Ledi Geraru and Gona River. Along with Lomekwi 3, these two relics have generated controversy, making the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge in England appear younger.

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“For many of us — myself included — unambiguous evidence for the earliest archaeological occurrences emerges in the shape of 2.6-million-year-old stone tools from Gona," said Yonatan Sahle, a senior lecturer of archaeology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He observed that the dating results for Lomekwi 3 are disputed, and he has severe concerns that the bones discovered there date back 3.3 million years.

According to the website of the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins project, Australopithecus Garhi, a human progenitor that lived in east Africa approximately 2.5 million years ago, may have produced the stone tools at Gona. The species’ fossils have been discovered beside stone tools, and they may have been among the earliest human predecessors to create complex stone tools.

According to David Braun, an anthropology professor at The George Washington University, if further fieldwork cannot ease worries about the age of Lomekwi 3, his second option for the oldest archaeological excavation would indeed be Ledi-Geraru of Afar, Ethiopia, which goes back around 2.8 million years.

Researchers discovered a fragmentary hominin jaw with teeth in Ledi-Geraru and dated it by studying the age of the surrounding silt, as published in the journal ‘Science’ in 2015.

Though Sahle questioned the date of this site too, claiming that it might be much younger than 2.8 million years old and that Gona had the best indisputable evidence.

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first published:September 17, 2021, 11:55 IST