The artefacts were discovered in the Algerian city of Setif by a team of international researchers.
Human tools dating back to some 2.4 million years have been found by archaeologists in Algeria, bringing into question East Africa’s title as the cradle of humanity, according to research published yesterday in the journal Science.
The artefacts were discovered in the Algerian city of Setif by a team of international researchers and were unearthed alongside dozens of fossilised animal bones which contained cut marks, as if relics of prehistoric butchers.
The tools, rough all-purpose implements made of chipped limestone and flint, resemble those known as Oldowan that have been found in East Africa, estimated to be some 2.6 million years old.
“East Africa is widely considered to be the birthplace of stone tool use by our ancient hominid ancestors – the earliest examples of which date as far back as about 2.6 million years ago,” said the report in Science.
“The new findings make Ain Boucherit the oldest site in northern Africa with in situ evidence of hominin meat use with associated stone tools and they suggest that other similarly early sites could be found outside of the Eastern Africa Rift.”
One theory is that humans carried stone tools with them out of East Africa and into other regions of the continent. Another is a “multiple origin scenario” such that early humans existed independently in both modern day Algeria and Ethiopia.
“The site of Ain Lahnech is the second oldest in the world after Gona in Ethiopia, which goes back to 2.6 million years ago and is widely considered the cradle of humanity,” lead author Mohamed Sahouni, whose team have spent the past eight years at the site, told reporters.
The findings suggest that early humans were present in North Africa at least 600,000 years earlier than scientists thought. However no human remains were found, so scientists do not know the details about the individuals present.
The dig, which was undertaken by researchers from Spain, Algeria, Australia and France, has now prompted hope that other ancient artefacts could be discovered in the region.
“Now that Ain Boucherit has yielded Oldowan archaeology estimated to 2.4 million years ago, Northern Africa and the Sahara may be a repository of further archaeological materials,” the study said.
“Based on the potential of Ain Boucherit and the adjacent sedimentary basins, we suggest that hominin fossils and Oldowan artifacts as old as those documented in East Africa could be discovered in North Africa as well.”