Oldest stone artefacts and cutmarked bones show early hominin presence in North Africa

A team of scientists led by Mohamed Sahnouni, archaeologist at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), has just published a paper in the journal Science which breaks with the paradigm that the cradle of Humankind lies in East Africa, based on the archaeological remains found at sites in the region of Ain Hanech (Algeria), the oldest currently known in the north of Africa.

Oldest stone artefacts and cutmarked bones show early hominin presence in North Africa
Archaeological excavation at Ain Boucherit, Algeria [Credit: Mathieu Duval]

For a long time, East Africa has been considered the place of origin of the earliest hominins and lithic technology, because up to now, very little was known about the first hominin occupation and activities in the north of the continent. Two decades of field and laboratory research directed by Dr. Sahnouni have shown that ancestral hominins actually made stone tools in North Africa that are near contemporary with the earliest known stone tools in East Africa dated to 2.6 million years.
These are stone artifacts and animal bones bearing marks of cutting by stone tools, with an estimated chronology of 2.4 and 1.9 million years, respectively, found at two levels at the sites of Ain Boucherit (within the Ain Hanech study area), which were dated using Paleomagnetism, Electron Spin Resonance (ESR), and the Biochronology of large mammals excavated together with the archaeological materials.

Fossils of animals such as pigs, horses and elephants, from very ancient sites, have been used by the paleontologist Jan van der Made, of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, to corroborate the ages yielded by Paleomagnetism, obtained by the CENIEH geochronologist Josep Parés, and ESR, found by Mathieu Duval, of Griffith University.

Oldest stone artefacts and cutmarked bones show early hominin presence in North Africa
Members of Ain Hanech team excavating at Ain Boucherit [Credit: Sahnouni et al., 2018]

The artifacts of Ain Boucherit were manufactured of locally available limestone and flint and include faces worked into choppers, polyhedra and subspheroids, as well as sharp-edged cutting tools used to process animal carcasses. These artifacts are typical of the Oldowan stone technology known from 2.6-1.9 million-year-old sites in East Africa, although those from Ain Boucherit show subtle variations.
“The lithic industry of Ain Boucherit, which is technologically similar to that of Gona and Olduvai, shows that our ancestors ventured into all corners of Africa, not just East Africa. The evidence from Algeria changes the earlier view that East Africa was the cradle of Humankind. Actually, the whole of Africa was the cradle of humankind,” states Sahnouni, leader of the Ain Hanech project.

Ain Boucherit is one of the few archaeological sites in Africa which has provided evidence of bones with associated marks of cutting and percussion in situ with stone tools, which shows unmistakably that these ancestral hominins exploited meat and marrow from animals of all sizes and skeletal parts, which implied skinning, evisceration and defleshing of upper and intermediate extremities.

Oldest stone artefacts and cutmarked bones show early hominin presence in North Africa
Two examples of stone tools from Ain Boucherit. An Oldowan core from which sharp-edged cutting flakes were
removed (left). Sharp-edged cutting flake that may be used for butchery activities on the bones (right)
[Credit: Mohamed Sahnouni]

Isabel Cáceres, taphonomist at the IPHES, has commented that “the effective use of sharp-edged tools at Ain Boucherit suggests that our ancestors were not mere scavengers. It is not clear at this moment whether they hunted, but the evidence clearly shows that they were successfully competing with carnivores and enjoyed first access to animal carcasses.”
At this moment, the most important question is who made the stone tools discovered in Algeria. Hominin remains have still not been found in North Africa which are contemporary with the earliest stone artifacts. As a matter of fact, nor have any hominins yet been documented in direct association with the first stone tools known from East Africa.

Nevertheless, a recent discovery in Ethiopia has shown the presence of early Homo dated to 2.8 million years, most likely the best candidate also for the materials from East and North Africa.

Oldest stone artefacts and cutmarked bones show early hominin presence in North Africa
A small bovid bone with stone tool cutmarks [Credit: Isabel Caceres]

Scientists thought for a long time that the hominins and their material culture originated in the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. Surprisingly, the earliest known hominin, dated to 7.0 million years, and the 3.3 million years Australopithecus bahrelghazali, have been discovered in Chad, in the Sahara, 3000 km from the rift valleys in the east of Africa.
As Sileshi Semaw, scientist at the CENIEH and a co-author of this paper, explains that the hominins contemporary with Lucy (3.2 million years), were probably roamed over the Sahara, and their descendants might have been responsible for leaving these archaeological puzzles now discovered in Algeria, that are near contemporaries of those of East Africa.

“Future research will focus on searching for human fossils in the nearby Miocene and Plio-Pleistocene deposits, looking for the tool-makers and even older stone tools,” concludes Sahnouni.

Source: Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) [November 30, 2018]

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2018 November 30 A Cold River to Orion Image Credit &…

2018 November 30

A Cold River to Orion
Image Credit & Copyright: Juris Sennikovs

Explanation: Ice is forming on the river Lielupe as it flows through the landscape in this winter’s night scene. Even in motion the frigid water still reflects a starry sky, though. The well planned, Orion-centered panorama looks toward the south, taken in three exposures from a bridge near the village of Stalgene, Latvia, planet Earth. Drifting pancakes of ice leave streaks in the long exposures, while familiar stars of Orion and the northern winter night appear above and below the horizon. Village lights along the horizon include skyward beams from the local community church. This image was a first place winner in the 2018 StarSpace astrophotography competition.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap181130.html

Exploring the watery remains of France’s sunken Roman port of Olbia

Stretching over four sandy kilometres Almanarre beach in southern France is a mecca for sun lovers and kite surfers. But its greatest treasure — a 2,000-year-old underwater archaeological site — lies just a few feet offshore.

Exploring the watery remains of France's sunken Roman port of Olbia
The ancient Roman city of Olbia fell victim to a slow rise in Mediterranean waters, but is still open
for visits from explorers equipped with a snorkel mask and flippers [Credit: AFP]

Welcome to the port of the ancient Roman city of Olbia, which fell victim to a slow rise in Mediterranean waters, but is still open for visits from explorers equipped with a snorkel mask and pair of flippers.
A collection of rectangular limestone blocks, some perfectly aligned, others scattered about on the seafloor, make up the watery remains of the dock of the city of Olbia, a fortified trading post founded by the Greeks in the 4th Century BC on the outskirts of the modern-day Riviera town of Hyeres.

After the capture of nearby Marseille by Julius Caesar in 49 BC the region gradually came under the control of the Roman empire, which endowed Olbia with a port in the 1st Century AD.

Exploring the watery remains of France's sunken Roman port of Olbia
Many of the blocks were looted by locals to build homes, so the port
went into decline as the sea level rose [Credit: AFP]

The 100-metre (yard) dock was only used for 80 years, according to marine archaeologist Lenaic Riaudel, who guides visits of the remains which lie close to the shore, in some places just inches deep.
“The port suffered from its location, fully exposed to the (strong northwesterly) mistral wind but especially to competition from Toulon,” a city 20 kilometres to the west, Riaudel told AFP.

With many of the blocks looted by locals to build homes, the port went into decline and as the sea level rose — nearly a metre in 2,000 years — so the port gradually sank.

Exploring the watery remains of France's sunken Roman port of Olbia
Marine archaeologist Lenaic Riaudel guides visits of the remains
which lie close to the shore [Credit: AFP]

Today, visitors can tour the remains of Olbia (meaning ‘happy’ in ancient Greek), including its thermal baths, shops, dwellings and fortifications, on a headland overlooking the sea.
The city was inhabited for nearly 1,000 years before being abandoned during Frankish rule (450-751 AD) when the last residents moved further inland.

While the land site, revealed a century ago, is visible to the naked eye, few are aware that a part of Olbia’s history lies beneath Almanarre’s iridescent waters, covered in mother-of-pearl and colonised by sea urchins and sea bream.

Exploring the watery remains of France's sunken Roman port of Olbia
The 100-metre dock was only used for 80 years,
according to Riaudel [Credit: AFP]

Those who visit that part of the beach usually do so “because the water is always warmer here”, said 39-year-old Riaudel, who has carried out hundreds of dives at the site.
“I’ve been exploring this area for years and had never heard of it,” Yves Corlobe, an instructor from a local surf school admitted.

Author: Olivier Lucazeau | Source: AFP [November 30, 2018]

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