Sunday, August 15, 2010

Butchering Lucy

The Dikika Research Project, composed of an international team of scientists, publishing in this week's Nature magazine, have discovered evidence that human ancestors were using stone tools and consuming meat from large animals earlier than previously thought. The researchers were using a new method to collect every piece of bone from large mammals in order to reconstruct the ancient environment, and that's when they found it. Two V-shaped marks and other cuts on the bones of two antelope (one cow-sized, the other goat-sized) unearthed in the Afar Depression of Ethiopia show that hominids, specifically Australopithecus afarensis (you may be familiar with Lucy?) were using sharp stone tools to butcher meat as far back as 3.4 million years ago. Until now the oldest evidence of butchering with stone tools came from 2.5 million year old bone cuts in Bouri, Ethiopia, and the oldest known tools from Gona, Ethiopia. This newer, much older find suggests that ancestral humans were already using sharp stones to cut meat when their brains and bodies were barely bigger than a chimpanzee's. This find further illuminates the link between tool use and carnivory in the roots of human ancestry.

update: Look through the article below but I also strongly recommend listening to Friday's episode (8/13/10) of NPR's Science Friday. Ira Flatow plays referee between two scientists (Zeresenay Alemseged and David DeGusta) fervently debating the origin of the marks on these bones. Hominid or crocodile? You can stream and download it here: http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/201008134 or free through iTunes.
Check out the article:
McPherron, Shannon P., et al. (2010) Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature: 466 (7308), 857 (DOI: 10.1038/nature09248)

and some stories:
http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/08/the-first-butchers.html
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100811135039.htm
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