Earliest known Oldowan artifacts at >2.58 Ma from Ledi-Geraru, Ethiopia, highlight early technological diversity
Humans are distinguished from all other primates by their reliance on tool use. When this uniquely human feature began is debated. Evidence of tool use in human ancestors now extends almost 3.3 Ma and becomes prevalent only after 2.6 Ma with the Oldowan. Here, we report a new Oldowan locality (BD 1) that dates prior to 2.6 Ma. These earliest Oldowan tools are distinctive from the 3.3 Ma assemblage and from materials that modern nonhuman primates produce. So, although tool production and use represent a generalized trait of many primates, including human ancestors, the production of Oldowan stone artifacts appears to mark a systematic shift in tool manufacture that occurs at a time of major environmental changes.The manufacture of flaked stone artifacts represents a major milestone in the technology of the human lineage. Although the earliest production of primitive stone tools, predating the genus Homo and emphasizing percussive activities, has been reported at 3.3 million years ago (Ma) from Lomekwi, Kenya, the systematic production of sharp-edged stone tools is unknown before the 2.58–2.55 Ma Oldowan assemblages from Gona, Ethiopia. The organized production of Oldowan stone artifacts is part of a suite of characteristics that is often associated with the adaptive grade shift linked to the genus Homo. Recent discoveries from Ledi-Geraru (LG), Ethiopia, place the first occurrence of Homo ∼250 thousand years earlier than the Oldowan at Gona. Here, we describe a substantial assemblage of systematically flaked stone tools excavated in situ from a stratigraphically constrained context [Bokol Dora 1, (BD 1) hereafter] at LG bracketed between 2.61 and 2.58 Ma. Although perhaps more primitive in some respects, quantitative analysis suggests the BD 1 assemblage fits more closely with the variability previously described for the Oldowan than with the earlier Lomekwian or with stone tools produced by modern nonhuman primates. These differences suggest that hominin technology is distinctly different from generalized tool use that may be a shared feature of much of the primate lineage. The BD 1 assemblage, near the origin of our genus, provides a link between behavioral adaptations—in the form of flaked stone artifacts—and the biological evolution of our ancestors.