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An earlier origin for the Acheulian


The Acheulian is one of the first defined prehistoric techno-complexes and is characterized by shaped bifacial stone tools1,2,3. It probably originated in Africa, spreading to Europe and Asia perhaps as early as 1 million years (Myr) ago4,5,6. The origin of the Acheulian is thought to have closely coincided with major changes in human brain evolution, allowing for further technological developments7,8. Nonetheless, the emergence of the Acheulian remains unclear because well-dated sites older than 1.4 Myr ago are scarce. Here we report on the lithic assemblage and geological context for the Kokiselei 4 archaeological site from the Nachukui formation (West Turkana, Kenya) that bears characteristic early Acheulian tools and pushes the first appearance datum for this stone-age technology back to 1.76 Myr ago. Moreover, co-occurrence of Oldowan and Acheulian artefacts at the Kokiselei site complex indicates that the two technologies are not mutually exclusive time-successive components of an evolving cultural lineage, and suggests that the Acheulian was either imported from another location yet to be identified or originated from Oldowan hominins at this vicinity. In either case, the Acheulian did not accompany the first human dispersal from Africa9,10 despite being available at the time. This may indicate that multiple groups of hominins distinguished by separate stone-tool-making behaviours and dispersal strategies coexisted in Africa at 1.76 Myr ago.

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Figure 1: Geological 11 and location map.
Figure 2: Summary diagram.
Figure 3: Age model.

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We thank the office of the President of Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya for permission to conduct this research, TOTAL Kenya for logistical support, and the WTAP team. Funding was provided by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Science Foundation (BCS 02-18511 to C.S.F.). Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is acknowledged for ongoing support to the Paleomagnetics Laboratory.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.J.L. recorded field sedimentological and stratigraphic data, collected and analysed geological samples, interpreted palaeomagnetic data, and wrote the overall paper. H.R. oversaw archaeological excavations, analysed and interpreted archaeological material, and wrote sections of the paper. D.V.K. analysed geological samples, interpreted palaeomagnetic data, and edited the paper. S.H. conducted archaeological excavations, analysed and interpreted the archaeological material, and wrote sections of the paper. R.L.Q. recorded field sedimentological and stratigraphic data, collected geological samples, and edited the paper. J.-P.B. analysed and interpreted fossil material. P.-J.T. analysed and interpreted archaeological material. A.L. conducted geological mapping. C.S.F. recorded field sedimentological and stratigraphic data and conducted geological mapping.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. Lepre.

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Lepre, C., Roche, H., Kent, D. et al. An earlier origin for the Acheulian. Nature 477, 82–85 (2011).

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