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Home / Science / The history of human origin has changed again thanks to new discovery in Algeria

The history of human origin has changed again thanks to new discovery in Algeria

An Oldowan core was removed from the Ain Boucherit site.
Image: M. Sahnouni

The discovery of 2.4 million-year-old stone tools and slaughtered bones at a site in Algeria suggests that our distant relatives of hominins in the northern regions of Africa spread far earlier than the Archaeologists suspected. The discovery makes the emerging suggestion that ancient hominins live and evolved in front of an alleged Garden of Eden in East Africa more believable.

This extraordinary discovery can be traced back to 2006, when Mohamed Sahnouni, the main author of the new, was a study and an archaeologist at the National Research Center for Human Evolution in Spain found in a place called Ain Boucherit in northeastern Algeria nearby the city of El-Eulma fascinating artifacts. These objects were embedded in a layer of sediment exposed by a deep ravine. Two years later, Sahnouni found another shift, an even older one. From 2009 to 2016, his team meticulously worked at Ain Boucherit and discovered a collection of stone tools and slaughtered animal remains.

The team of Ain Boucherit.
Image: M. Sahnouni

Using several dating methods, Sahnouni and his colleagues dated the two stratigraphic strata AB-Up and AB-Lw, which were 1.9 million and 2.4 million years old, respectively. The objects in these two layers are now the oldest known artifacts in North Africa, with the oldest existing 1.8 million-year-old late 19th-century stone tool found at a nearby site called Ain Hanech. At 2.4 million years old, tools in the AB-Lw layer are 600,000 years older than those of Ain Hanech and 200,000 years younger than the oldest tools in East Africa (and worldwide). The Oldowan tools of Gona, Ethiopia, dated 2.6 million years ago. Scientists used to think that early hominin originated in this region of Africa and spread to the north about a million years later. However, this finding suggests a much earlier date of diffusion into the continent.

In order to put this data into perspective, our species Homo sapiens was created 300,000 years ago. The unknown hominins who built these tools cavorted about two and a half million years before East and North Africa before modern man came on the market. The new discoveries at Ain Boucherit, whose details are published today in Science, suggest that North Africa was not just a place where human ancestors lived and developed tools, but a place where they developed.

In fact, this new research feeds on an emerging narrative in which people have evolved according to conventional thinking across the African continent, and not just in East Africa. In addition, interest in archeological interest in North Africa should be aroused.

"The evidence from Algeria has changed [our]. The View of East Africa [as] is the cradle of humanity. In fact, all of Africa was the cradle of humanity. "

To date the layers, Sahnouni used three different techniques: magnetostratigraphy, electron spin resonance (ESR) dating, and a biochronological analysis of the animal bones mixed with the tools.

Eleanor Scerri, an Oxford University archaeologist who was not involved in the new study, said the researchers did a great job of dating and said it was "unbelievably difficult" to accurately date ancient hominin sites ,

"The authors have combined several dating methods to create an age estimate for the early occupation of [AB-Lw layer] about 2.4 million years ago," Scerri told Gizmodo. "They did this by first reconstructing the sequence of geomagnetic inversions that are globally well-dated. The researchers then found the chronological location of the … crew layers within this sequence through a combination of electrospin resonance (ESR) dating of minerals in the sediments and the identification of fossils [animals]. "

said Scerri confine the data beautifully, but involve some uncertainties and assumptions.

Jean-Jacques Hublin, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology – also not involved in the new study – was not enthusiastic about the dating techniques used by Sahnouni and his colleagues.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and there may be some reservations about the proposed age for the Ain Boucherit and Ain Hanech sites," Hublin told Gizmodo. "Paleomagnetism is not a dating method. It helps to restrict data obtained by other methods and is subject to various interpretations. "

Good enough. These are indeed extraordinary claims, so an independent attempt to date these layers and the artifacts would support the conclusions of the study.

"If confirmed, the results suggest that hominin occupied North Africa almost a million years earlier than previously thought," he told Scerri. "This data would make the Oldowan in North Africa only slightly younger than in East Africa."

Some Oldowan tools found at the site, including cores and flakes.
Image: M. Sahnouni et al., 2018

From Oldowan, Scerri refers to the world's oldest stone tool industry. This technology has irrevocably changed the history of homin evolution and created the preconditions for even more refined stone tools such as the subsequent Acheulean culture. Remarkably, the stone tools found at Ain Boucherit were strikingly similar to the Oldowan tools of East Africa. Oldowan Lithics have stone cores whose flakes have been removed from the surface, resulting in sharp edges. In addition to these tools, researchers uncovered highly scaled globular rocks whose purpose is not entirely clear.

"The archeology of Ain Boucherit, technologically similar to the Gona Oldowan, shows that our ancestors ventured into every corner of Africa, not just in East Africa," Sahnouni said in a statement. "The evidence from Algeria has changed [our]the view that East Africa [as] is the cradle of humanity. In fact, all of Africa was the cradle of humanity. "

To explain the presence of Oldowan technology in North Africa, the researchers present two scenarios: either the technology was developed by hominins in East Africa about 2.6 million years ago, which were rapidly spreading and using their novel technology North or hominin living in North Africa have invented the Oldowan technology independently of other groups.

Cutting marks consistent with the slaughter.
Image: I. Caceres

Archaeologists have found traces of mastodons, elephants, horses, rhinos, hippos, wild antelopes, swine, hyenas and crocodiles in relation to the discovered animal bones – oh my God! These ancient hominins were obviously not picky eaters. It is important that many of these animals are associated with open savannahs and easily accessible freshwater bodies. This probably describes the landscape that was inhabited at that time by these Old Homean Hominins.

The analysis of the fossilized bones showed characteristic signs of butchery, such as: B. V-shaped furrows involved in evisceration and unbundling, and indentations suggesting a mark extraction. Ain Boucherit is today the oldest site in North Africa and has tangible archaeological evidence for meat use in conjunction with stone tools.

"The effective use of sharp-edged, knife-like cutting tools at Ain Boucherit suggests that our ancestors were not pure scavengers," said Isabel Caceres, archaeologist at the University of Rovira i Virgili in Spain and co-author of the study, said in a statement. "At this point [is] it's not clear whether they hunted or not, but the evidence clearly showed that they successfully competed with carnivores for meat and were given access to animal carcasses for the first time."

Unfortunately, no hominin bones were found in the vein. Therefore, the researchers can only make informed assumptions about the species responsible for the tools. It may have been Homo habilis an early human species that was at that time or even late Australopithecines the hominin genus associated with the famous Lucy fossil.

Scerri said that paper underscores the importance of North Africa and the Sahara for archaeologists who want to know more about the origin of man. The newspaper also raises new questions about the hominin evolution, such as the origin and spread of Oldowan technology.

"The paper can not answer these questions, but it changes the narrative by picking it up and actually pointing out that there may be alternatives to the dominant model of East African origin," she told Gizmodo. "As the authors point out, the fossils of the 3.3 million year old Australopithecus bahrelghazali have already been found in Chad in the Sahara region. The findings reported by Sahnouni and his colleagues therefore contribute to an increasing body of evidence that North Africa and the Sahara could possibly bring about groundbreaking discoveries. "

These results are strikingly in line with Scerri's own research. In an article published last July on trends in ecology and evolution, Scerri and her colleagues claimed that Homo sapiens had a pan-african origin and that our species did not evolve from a single native population.

"In our model, human ancestors were already scattered throughout Africa," she explained. "Different populations came into contact at different times and places, and these dynamic patterns of mixing and separation eventually led to the development of the behavioral and biological characteristics of today's human populations. The results of Sahnouni and his colleagues agree with this view, albeit relatively loosely, as they were about 1.8 million years before the earliest glimmer of the divergence of our species.

Scerri hopes that scientists will more specifically explore the supposedly "less important" regions of Africa to obtain a more accurate – and real – picture of hominin evolution over time.

"Exploring the Sahara and other areas located in the less glittering corners of the map of human origin will likely bring important results, which in no way detracts from the incredibly important and valuable finds from eastern and southern Africa."


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