Article

3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya

  • Nature volume 521, pages 310315 (21 May 2015)
  • doi:10.1038/nature14464
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Abstract

Human evolutionary scholars have long supposed that the earliest stone tools were made by the genus Homo and that this technological development was directly linked to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands. New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier hominin technological behaviour. We report the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. The Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the office of the President of Kenya, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST/RCD/12B/012/25) and the National Museums of Kenya for permission to conduct research. Funding was provided by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (N°681/DGM/ATT/RECH, N°986/DGM/DPR/PRG), the French National Research Agency (ANR-12-CULT-0006), the Fondation Fyssen, the National Geographic Society (Expeditions Council #EC0569-12), the Rutgers University Research Council and Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, and INTM Indigo Group France. We thank the Turkana Basin Institute and Total Kenya Limited for logistical support and the GeoEye Foundation for satellite imagery; the Turkana communities from Nariokotome, Kokiselei and Katiko for field assistance, and the 2011-12 WTAP team, S. Kahinju, P. Egolan, L. P. Martin, D. Massika, B. K. Mulwa S. M. Musyoka, A. Mutisiya, J. Mwambua, F. M. Wambua, M. Terrade, A. Weiss, R. Benitez, S. Feibel. M. Leakey and F. Spoor supplied information on hominin fossils, and I. de la Torre and E. Hovers provided lithic assemblage data. We are very grateful to A. Brooks, I. de la Torre, J. Shea, R. Klein and M. Leakey for comments on earlier drafts. We also thank the Zoller & Fröhlich GmbH company, Ch. Fröhlich and M. Reinköster, Autodesk and Faro (T. O’Mahoney, K. Almeida Warren and T. Gichunge) for technical support with scanning and J. P. Chirey for photographic assistance.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Turkana Basin Institute, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-4364, USA

    • Sonia Harmand
    • , Jason E. Lewis
    •  & Louise Leakey
  2. CNRS, UMR 7055, Préhistoire et Technologie, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, 21 allée de l’Université, 92023 Nanterre Cedex, France

    • Sonia Harmand
    • , Adrian Arroyo
    • , Nicholas Taylor
    •  & Hélène Roche
  3. West Turkana Archaeological Project, P.O. Box 40658-00100, Ngara Rd, Nairobi, Kenya

    • Sonia Harmand
    • , Jason E. Lewis
    • , Craig S. Feibel
    • , Christopher J. Lepre
    • , Sandrine Prat
    • , Arnaud Lenoble
    • , Xavier Boës
    • , Rhonda L. Quinn
    • , Nicholas Taylor
    • , Sophie Clément
    • , Jean-Philip Brugal
    • , Sammy Lokorodi
    • , Christopher Kirwa
    •  & Hélène Roche
  4. Department of Anthropology and Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA

    • Jason E. Lewis
    •  & Craig S. Feibel
  5. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854, USA

    • Craig S. Feibel
    • , Christopher J. Lepre
    • , Rhonda L. Quinn
    • , Richard A. Mortlock
    • , James D. Wright
    •  & Dennis V. Kent
  6. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Christopher J. Lepre
    •  & Dennis V. Kent
  7. CNRS, UPR 2147, Dynamique de l’Evolution Humaine, 44 rue de l’Amiral Mouchez, 75014 Paris, France

    • Sandrine Prat
    •  & Xavier Boës
  8. CNRS, UMR 5199 PACEA, Université de Bordeaux, 33615 Pessac, France

    • Arnaud Lenoble
    •  & Michel Brenet
  9. Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey 07079, USA

    • Rhonda L. Quinn
  10. Inrap, Centre Mixte de Recherche Archéologique, Domaine de Campagne, 24620 Campagne, France

    • Michel Brenet
  11. Inrap, 34-36 avenue Paul-Vaillant Couturier, 93120 La Courneuve, France

    • Sophie Clément
  12. IPHEP, Institut de Paléoprimatologie, Paléontologie Humaine: Évolution et Paléoenvironnements, CNRS, UMR 7262, Université de Poitiers, Bât. B35 – TSA 51106, 6 rue Michel Brunet, 86073 Poitiers Cedex 9, France

    • Guillaume Daver
  13. Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, MCC, UMR 7269, LAMPEA, 13094 Aix-en-Provence Cedex 2, France

    • Jean-Philip Brugal
  14. National Museums of Kenya, Department of Earth Sciences, Archaeology Section, P.O. Box 40658-00100 Ngara Rd, Nairobi, Kenya

    • Christopher Kirwa

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Contributions

S.H. and J.E.L. directed field research and co-wrote the overall paper. C.S.F., C.J.L., A.L. and X.B. recorded sedimentological and stratigraphic data, conducted geological mapping, and wrote sections of the paper. C.S.F. interpreted tephra data. C.J.L. interpreted paleomagnetic data. S.P., J.-Ph.B., S.L., C.K. and L.L. conducted paleontological survey. S.P., J.-Ph.B. and L.L. analysed and interpreted fossil material. L.L. directed scanning of artefacts. S.P. laser scanned artefacts and excavation surfaces, and wrote sections of the paper. R.L.Q. interpreted isotopic data and wrote sections of the paper. C.S.F., C.J.L., R.L.Q., R.A.M., J.D.W. and D.V.K. analysed geological samples. G.D. developed protocols for tool replication experiments and wrote sections of the paper. S.H., H.R., N.T., M.B., S.C., S.L. and C.K. conducted archaeological survey and excavation. S.H., H.R., A.A., N.T. and M.B. analysed and interpreted lithic material and wrote sections of the paper. M.B. performed lithic replication experiments. S.C. provided spatial data. S.L. discovered the LOM3 site.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Sonia Harmand or Jason E. Lewis.

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