A recent discovery of complex stone tools indicates that humans, at a very early stage in history, were producing wooden implements that have not been preserved in the archaeological record. These important findings, reported in the November 1999 issue of the Journal of Human Evolution (Dominguez-Rodrigo, 1999), quickly pushed the appearance of human woodworking back 1 million years (using evolution-based dating methods). This emergence of complex stone tools show that early humans were endowed with a previously unknown sophisticated dexterity for crafting tools.
The tools, which researchers estimate to be 1.7 to 1.9 million years old, were found in the Kaudom National Park, a 3,840 square kilometer range of wilderness and dry Savannah woodland in the remote Kavango region on the Kalahari rim of Namibia. Grant McCall, a 20 year-old Grinnell College student from St. Louis, Missouri, was examining an extinct watercourse when he unearthed one of the earliest documented “Stone Age” sites in the country. Prior to this discovery it was believed that our ancestors’ “toolkit” was limited to simple hand-held stone tools, until about 500,000 years ago, when wooden tools and weapons were thought to come into use.
A team of Spanish archaeologists, led by Dr. Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo, from the Complutense University of Madrid discovered residues of wood on the working edges of stone hand axes found in the region. Additionally, the stone tools show clear damage due to having been used in heavy-duty activities. Dominguez-Rodrigo stated, “That our forebears had the ability to fashion wood into utensils a million years earlier than previously thought will cause us to reassess our understanding of their ability to hunt and gather.” Subsequent microanalysis of the matrix adhering to the tools revealed residues of wood indistinguishable from those known from Acacia. Dominguez-Rodrigo commented: “This is the oldest evidence of woodworking in human evolution. The remains belonging to the Acacia trees are proof that early humans had wooden utensils, such as spears and digging sticks, which very likely enabled them to have the technology necessary to become successful hunters.” Furthermore the tools were said to exhibit “wear patterns indicative of heavy-duty activities, such as hardwood working.”
The implications from this discovery have far-reaching effects for the evolutionary theories surrounding our ancient ancestors. Previous speculation into the evolution of humans used things like diet to explain certain characteristic differences commonly found on fossilized skulls. Many scientific papers have been written regarding the differences in teeth size, and how that relates to either a vegetarian or a carnivorous lifestyle. McCall’s find implies that humans were hunting animals and using tools to cut them open over a million years prior to the estimates evolutionists had assigned in their “time-line” of human descent. Additionally it means that humans that were able to hunt successfully were able to disperse into open environments. Prior to this discovery, most of the evidence for the “oldest” periods of human existence came from East Africa. However, this finding will cause scientists to rethink how humans dispersed in Africa.
The ability to work with wood early in history gives us further insight into just how complex and intelligent these early ancestors really were. It also demonstrates that humans were active agents, not passive animals as evolutionists previously expected. Good-bye Mr. “Dumb” Neandertal!
Dominguez-Rodrigo, M. (1999), “Distinguishing between apples and oranges: the application of modern cut-mark studies to the Plio-Pleistocene (a reply to Monahan),” Journal of Human Evolution, 37:793-800, November.
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