Earliest 500,000-Year-Old Human Ancestor Bone Tools Found In UK

According to archaeologists, you’re looking at tools made 480,000 years ago by an extinct human ancestor bone. These tools represent the oldest known bone tools ever found in Europe and give an incredible view of the habits of a half-a-million-year-old human-like species.

Earliest 500,000-Year-Old Human Ancestor Bone Tools Found In UK

The findings were made in 1989 when archaeologists from the UCL Institute of Archaeology embarked on a dig at Boxgrove, West Sussex, in southeast England, but have now been released with incredible pictures and details in a new book, The Horse Butchery Site.

Nicknamed the “Horse Butchery Site,” the site is part of a multi-area dig that yielded astonishing artifacts. Bone tools, a butchered horse carcass, and over 2,000 shards of flint were among the historically significant pieces found belonging to an early species of human ancestors, thought to be Homo heidelbergensis. This human subspecies roamed Europe and Africa 700,000-200,000 years ago. The researchers believe a small group of young adults had gathered around the area to prepare a butchered horse in a hunting party of sorts.

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A photograph of the Horse Butchery Site, Boxgrove, under excavation in 1990. (C) UCL Institute of Archaeology
The ancestor bone tools found here represent some of the earliest organic tools ever found. It is believed they were used to prepare carcasses and shape flint into sharp tools, explaining the thousands of tiny flint shards. Preserved prints of humanoid knees mark what are believed to be areas that members of the community would strike large pieces of flint with a bone axe, or ‘knap’ them, to create the tools.

“The ancestor bone tools are some of the earliest non-stone tools found in the archaeological record of human evolution. They would have been essential for manufacturing the finely made flint knives found in the wider Boxgrove landscape,” said Simon Parfitt, principle research associate at the Institute of Archaeology, in a statement.

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Eight regions were identified with remnants of tools, and it’s believed the members of the party would kneel and craft hand axes, or “bifaces”, and stone hammers. These tools were then used to remove the meat and break apart the bones of the butchered horse to access the marrow inside.

Left: A small knapping scatter relating to the reshaping of a biface, preserving the imprint of an early human knee in the shards of waste flint, 1989.
Right: A small refit group that preserves the complete reshaping of a tool, presumably during its use in butchering the horse. (C) UCL Institute of Archaeology
“This was an exceptionally rare opportunity to examine a site pretty much as it had been left behind by an extinct population, after they had gathered to totally process the carcass of a dead horse on the edge of a coastal marshland,” added Dr Matthew Pope, project lead on the dig.

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“Incredibly, we’ve been able to get as close as we can to witnessing the minute-by-minute movement and behaviours of a single apparently tight-knit group of early humans: a community of people, young and old, working together in a co-operative and highly social way.”

The findings give massive insights into the socialization of ancestral human species and their understanding of different tools. It is predicted up to 40 members of the community shared the Boxgrove area, and these discoveries suggest complex social interactions between them. Unfortunately, the archaeologists are yet to discover where the community slept, but Boxgrove remains internationally significant for uncovering human ancestral species.

Originally published at iflscience

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