Stone tools from the past suggest early humans dined on a Hippo

Ancient Archaeoanthropology of the Kenyan cave site Grotte Mandrin. I. Stone tools and fossils reveal a primordial invasion of Neanderthal territory

These findings suggest that stone tools were crucial for accessing hard-to-get foods, says co-author Thomas Plummer, a palaeoanthropologist at Queens College, City University of New York in Flushing. He says that early hominins wouldn’t have been able to do much with their hands and teeth. Stone tools let them work food outside of their mouths.

The site in Kenya is now offering some fresh insights. In the early 2000s, a worker at an excavation near Lake Victoria told researchers that he’d seen stone tools and animal fossils popping out of the ground near his home.

The crew excavated at the new site in 2015. Over several field seasons, they unearthed 330 artefacts, including 42 Oldowan stone tools scattered around the bones of an ancestral hippo. There are signs that some of the animal remains were cut and removed by stone implements at the site.

A 54,000-year-old cave site in southern France holds hundreds of tiny stone points, which researchers say closely resemble other known arrowheads — including replicas that they tested on dead goats.

It isn’t certain why Neanderthals in the region and elsewhere did not pick up bow-and-arrow technology even if Homo sapiens did make the stone points in layer E. Some researchers have speculated that Neanderthals lacked the cognitive capacity to use projectiles, a difference that might have helped humans to out-compete Neanderthals for scarce game.

Above and below Grotte Mandrin’s layer E, researchers have found Neanderthal teeth and DNA, along with stone tools characteristic of the extinct group. Slimak and his team argue that layer E shows an early incursion of Homo sapiens into Neanderthal territory, thousands of years before the species settled in Europe. Not all archaeologists agree.

Getting an arrow point embedded in an animal bone with the smallest points possible, says a professor at Aix-Marseille University

The larger points could have been used with spears or darts. But only a bow and arrow could be used to kill an animal with the smallest points, says Laure Metz, an archaeology professor at Aix-Marseille University. “It’s not possible to use these tiny points with something other than a bow and arrow.”

Grotte Mandrin contains many horse bones, and Metz suspects that humans sheltering in the cave hunted these animals as well as bison migrating through the Rhône Valley. The team has found a horse femur with damage consistent with a stone point, and Metz dreams of finding an arrow point embedded in an animal bone.

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