Earliest Homo Erectus tools found in Kenya: 1.76 million years old

In the NYT, science writer John Noble Wilford reports that scientists have finally pinned a firm date on the earliest evidence of advanced tool-making by Homo erectus, a forerunner of modern humans. The new study dates the axe shown below to 1.76 million years ago.

A new geological study, being reported Thursday in the journal Nature, showed that tools from a site near Lake Turkana in Kenya were made about 1.76 million years ago, the earliest of their ilk found so far. Previous dates were estimates ranging from 1.4 million to 1.6 million years ago.

Read more: Earliest Homo Erectus Tools Found in Kenya.

Image: P. J. Texier/MPK/WTAP


  1. Hand-axes have been a DIY meme for 1,700 thousand years and they haven’t hit BoingBoing until now? I saw this on gopher — get with the times.

  2. I can even see “STANLEY” imprinted in the left one, if i magnify rlly rlly close

    It’s getting pretty close to where we need to start differentiating “tools”, technology that is, against simple manipulation of the environment. Is a natural stair a “tool”?

    1. i’m thinking it’s fairly clear that this ax isn’t random fractures, and as far as simple manipulation of the environment goes, if the step were used repeatedly or ritually or imitated, it certainly could be. i’m sure you made a better ax in 7th grade shop, but let’s take a little into account here.

  3. Isn’t the bigger question “How can they tell this stone was not naturally formed, say by falling rocks, as opposed to being formed by a Homo Erectus.”  Closely followed by “How can they accurately date a rock….which has, unless it is a meteorite, been in the same chemical state since the earth cooled.”  That far out in pre-history, aren’t we just dealing with what amounts to guesswork?

    1. Uh, someone needs to shut their bible and check out a geology and plate-tectonics primer. Just kidding about the bible part. Actually, the interesting part is this was 1) made by an ancestor of both of ours, and 2) that the same materials making up this stone tool and our bodies was fashioned in a star (or more than 1 star) that exploded and reformed into us.

    2. Not really guesswork, but we are dealing with what is the most likely explanation, given the possible alternatives.

      When humans fashion things they tend to leave characteristic marks, and these will be different to those arising from natural processes. So while it is not completely impossible that these rocks were formed into those shapes naturally, presumably they have the hallmarks of fashioned flint tools that have been seen elsewhere.

      And as to how rocks can be accurately dated… ah, now there’s a topic. But what we’re talking about here is not how old the rocks are – that can be found by radio dating methods, because in fact they *haven’t* been in the same state since they cooled. We’re talking about when they were made into tools, which is a different problem, and which you try to solve by looking at where they were found, what other objects (animal remains, perhaps) were found in the same place, things like that.

      So what we’re talking about is that guys who have experience in this field have deduced that the most likely explanation for these is that they are very old tools made by hand. Other explanations, which not completely impossible, are less likely (ranging from somewhat to extremely).

    3. “… established the age of the Turkana tools by dating the surrounding mudstone with a paleomagnetic technique. When layers of silt and clay hardened into stone, this preserved the orientation of Earth’s magnetic field at the time, and an analysis of the periodic polarity reversals and other records yielded the age of the site…” It’s right there in the article.

      1. If they’d read the article, they’d know that it was found in a collection of tools in the same stratum as the nearby remains of H. Erectus. But hey, if people read the articles, what would we comment about?

  4. The Bible was written by God and the earth is only 6000 years old. These ‘scientists’ are either faking the evidence or God (our lord and father) has caused their instruments to malfunction in order to test our faith.

      1. It’s puzzling, isn’t it?  Luckily, it doesn’t matter at all either way.

        When I finally get my religion going, my holy book will put the age of the earth at 4.5 billion years.  And it will have a space hollowed out of the pages for a gun.  I will fight the Skeptics on my terms…

  5. I have a greater appreciation for he skill than I did before I tried to make my own… much less flint knapping for real edges.

    I think we’re on the edge of a new age of archaeology.  Nothing so crazy as Lemuria, but we’re finding older sites in shallow water off shore of more recent sites all the time, and the relevant time ranges are stretching.  

    The critical point is that it seems clear that technology predates modern morphology.    

  6. Thanks a lot. I read the whole thread of a post which includes in its title the words “Homo Erectus Tools” and didn’t even get ONE stone penis joke. Appalling!

    Lucky for us there’s Flickr: This stone tool is only a thousand years old, but it clearly demonstrates the improvements in technology!

  7. I think there might be a typo.  Given that we know Creation is at most
    10,000 years old, this headline should probably have been:
    “Earliest Homo Erectus tools found in Kenya: 0.010 million years old”

    Thank you.

  8. “How can they tell this stone was not naturally formed, say by falling rocks, as opposed to being formed by a Homo Erectus.”  Closely followed by “How can they accurately date a rock….which has, unless it is a meteorite, been in the same chemical state since the earth cooled.” 
    question one… they can tell by the way it is shaped, naturally formed rocks would not be symmetrical nor would they have more then one symmetrical cut/chip…

    question two… by cutting  a sliver of the stone and seeing how long the cut/broken pice has been exposed… so they do not accurately date the rock but rather they can accurately date when the rock was broken… 

  9. we’ve been this smart for the entirety of our species. let’s argue about grammar and religion and politics for a couple more thousand years. then we can get out of bed.

  10. Well, I am not exactly a Biblical creationist, (evolution has been proven folks, now move on) but Chaotic-Cosmologic creationists get on my nerves at least as much, if not moreso, with talk like such I saw in these comments. 

    Do people who talk this way really believe themselves, or that they are
    much more likely to be correct than some bible-thumping, proselytizing hick
    who’s never ventured out of his hometown, much less having taken a couple semesters in liberal arts?

    “We were all once part of the same proto-star, awwwwes!  And at one
    point there was like a bang, and swirls, and then hominids started banging
    rocks together, and then the universe (as we knew it) had its very
    first Technology!  Awwwe.  And then later we realized primates & birds and
    otters and even ants use “technology” too.  Thus, humans are really no
    different after all from being hairless, snarky, clothed, immunized, et.c, ad.n, Apes.  Awe. And nematodes have not just feelings, but dreams and goals, too!  Technology itself is simply stardust, thoughts are fairy-dust.  Cuz like, a scientist said so.  But there’s no wai god exists – I mean, can someone show me a picture of god-bits being swirled in a test-tube? No. 
    Signed, just another bored hipster on the Godless Gadfly hipster bus.”

    Test of faith, my ass. I was prepared to push the point much further, but it’s now time for me to go sing of worshipful praise to Brownian fucking motion, during which I’ll give thanks again for our beautiful universe, and also for this bowl of vitamin-fortified cereal.

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