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The 'wetter' side of hominids.

The 'wetter' side of hominid tools

Some of the oldest known tools manufactured by human ancestors, dated at 2 million to 2.5 million years old, have been discovered in a rain forest in Zaire. The nearly 300 quartz tools, found with a number of animal bones and teeth, indicate that humans did not originate solely in the dry savannas of eastern Africa, according to investigators who uncovered the artifacts last summer.

The Zaire fieldwork was led by Noel T. Boaz of the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, John W.K. Harris of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and Alison S. Brooks of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. They described the find last week at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., one of several organizations that funded the expedition.

"This is the first indication of early hominids [direct ancestors of modern humans] in Africa's Western Rift Valley," says Boaz. "We expect to find remains of Homo habilis in the same deposits when we return this summer."

The dense vegetation and rain forests of the Western Rift Valley begin in Zaire and stretch to the Atlantic Ocean. Only two other sites yielding hominid tools, both in Ethiopia in the arid savannas of the Eastern Rift Valley, are thought to be older than the Zaire site. They are considered to be 2.3 to 2.6 million years old.

Tools uncovered at the Zaire site are simple cobbles, flakes and cores similar to the tools at the Eastern Rift sites, says Harris. It is too early to tellwhether they were used to kill animals or butcher carcasses, he adds.

The absence of volcanic rock at the site makes precise dating difficult, but animal species found in the same sediments provide clues to the time the bones were deposited. Remains include those of pigs, antelopes, giraffes, elephants and an ancient three-toed horse.

"This discovery tells us that reconstructions of the human story in Africa have been biased toward sites in the dry areas of eastern and southern Africa," says Brooks. "A significant part of the story is in wetter environments."

Furthermore, she adds, a number of other sites representing early human ancestors have been located within 10 miles of the excavation. Brooks estimates that the sites date from almost 1.5 million years ago to about 20,000 years ago.
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Title Annotation:artifacts of human ancestors found in rain forest in Zaire
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 8, 1986
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