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28 August 2016
250,000-year-old butchering tools found in Jordan

New research reveals surprisingly sophisticated adaptations by early humans living 250,000 years ago in a former oasis near what is now Azraq, in northwest Jordan, where stone tools bear the oldest evidence of residue from butchered animals including horse, rhinoceros, wild cattle, and duck, thousands of years before Homo sapiens first evolved in Africa.
     The team excavated 10,000 stone tools from what was once a wetland, became increasingly arid 250,000 years ago, and is now desert. After closely examining 7,000 of these tools - including scrapers, flakes, projectile points, and hand axes - 44 were selected, and 17 of those tested positive for protein residue.
     Team leader and palaeo-anthropologist April Nowell of the University of Victoria says: "Researchers have known for decades about carnivorous behaviours by tool-making hominins dating back 2.5 million years, but now, for the first time, we have direct evidence of exploitation by our Stone Age ancestors of specific animals for subsistence, The hominins in this region were clearly adaptable and capable of taking advantage of a wide range of available prey, from rhinoceros to ducks, in an extremely challenging environment."
     Nowell adds: "What this tells us about their lives and complex strategies for survival, such as the highly variable techniques for prey exploitation, as well as predator avoidance and protection of carcasses for food, significantly diverges from what we might expect from this extinct species. It opens up our ability to ask questions about how Middle Pleistocene hominins lived in this region and it might be a key to understanding the nature of interbreeding and population dispersals across Eurasia with modern humans and archaic populations such as Neanderthals."
     The technique demonstrates the potential to revolutionise what researchers know about early hominin diets.
     Nowell explains: "Other researchers with tools as old or older than these tools from sites in a variety of different environmental settings may also have success when applying the same technique to their tools, especially in the absence of animal remains at those sites."

Edited from Journal of Archaeological Science, PhysOrg (8 August 2016)

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