Confused? / Ask a geologist for help

Earliest Signs of Advanced Tools Found

One hallmark of Homo erectus, a forerunner (nice avoidance of chaotic species designations for hominid fossils) of modern humans, was his stone tools, an advanced technology reflecting a good deal of forethought and dexterity. Up to now, however, scientists have been unable to pin a firm date on the earliest known evidence of his stone tool-making.

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.

Although no erectus fossils were found with the Turkana tools, a skull of that species was excavated last year in the same sediment level across the lake. This suggests that Homo erectus was responsible for these particular tools, which were made with what scientists refer to as Acheulean technology. The term connotes the type of oval and pear-shaped hand axes and other implements that were a specialty of early humans.

American researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, 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 known as Kokiselei.

“I was taken aback when I realized that the geological data indicated it was the oldest Acheulean site in the world,” said the lead author of the report, Christopher J. Lepre, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty who also teaches geology at Rutgers University.

Just sayin’ – without a scientific basis for environmental context, archaeology is Just guessin’.

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Montana State University Summer Geology Field Course

Northern Rocky Mountains, Southwest Montana & Greater Yellowstone Region

Course description:  The MSU Summer Geology Field Camp is a rigorous 5-week (30 instructional days) summer field course focused on field mapping and data collection in a wide range of geologic settings. The course emphasizes time-tested methods and also includes an introduction to cutting-edge electronic mapping & data collection. Students will master geologic map-making and professional report preparation through intensive problem-based exercises. GEO 429R is a project-based research course and fulfills requirements for an upper division capstone field course in geologic mapping and field techniques.

Ask the “Dirt People” – very friendly and eager to help “reality-challenged” folks.

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