Assignment 7

Discovery may prove early humans ate meat

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It may be one of the most significant finds in years. The ancestors of modern humans may have used tools a million years sooner than scientists first thought and a local scientist is behind the find.

One particular rural area in Ethiopia is often regarded as the cradle of mankind. It is home to some of the oldest known remains of modern man's ancestors. Scientists have been looking for clues about mankind there for decades and they have made a major discovery about our ancient ancestors.

"We discovered two bones that clearly indicate that they have stone tool-inflicted marks on them," says Zeresenay Alemseged, a paleoanthropologist from the California Academy of Sciences.

The fossilized animal bones show distinct signs of primitive stone tools. They were likely made by sharp rocks used to break the bones open to extract marrow for food. Until now, the oldest known evidence of butchering dated to about 2.5 million years ago.

"We are talking about 3.4 million years ago," he says.

This could mean that mankind picked up tools nearly a million years earlier than previously thought. The animal bones provide evidence that our ancestors were more advanced. Not only were they able to use tools, but they ate meat.

Alemseged says, "This species australopithecus afarensis played a very critical role in our evolutionary history because the species were the very first hominids."

The find was made just a short distance from another one of the Academy's discoveries. The oldest and most complete juvenile skeleton of the species was unearthed in 2000. Nicknamed "Selam," the remains date back 3.3 million years. Modern humans emerged just 200,000 years ago.

Alemseged says, "Until now, no one was able to demonstrate that this species was using tools."

The team will resume its research in the coming months with a new motivation, finding the "tools" that may have made these early cuts. The Academy team's findings were released in the journal "Nature."

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.

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