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Butcher may be
the world’s real
By Bruce Bower
For Lucy and her comrades, raw meat
sliced off animal carcasses was what’s for
dinner. That’s the implication of a study
published in the Aug. 12 Nature describing butchery marks on two animal bones
from about 3. 4 million years ago.
If the new analysis holds up, it provides the oldest evidence so far of stone-tool use and meat eating by members of
the human evolutionary family. It’s also
the first sign of such behavior in hominids preceding the Homo lineage, which
includes modern humans, say archaeologist Shannon McPherron of the
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
McPherron and his colleagues discovered the fossils in Ethiopia’s Dikika area.
Until now, the oldest animal bones
bearing stone-tool butchery marks came
from another Ethiopian site, Bouri, and
were dated to 2. 5 million years ago (SN:
4/24/99, p. 262). Researchers found the
oldest known stone tools, estimated to
be 2. 6 million to 2. 5 million years old,
at nearby Gona, Ethiopia. Those imple-
ments were fashioned from select types
of rock, suggesting that stone toolmaking
began much earlier (SN: 4/17/04, p. 254).
Two animal bones found in Ethiopia bear damage consistent with the use of stone
tools about 3. 4 million years ago to remove meat and marrow from the carcasses.
to salvage meat from animal carcasses,
The ne w finds add to growing evidence
that A. afarensis behaved in relatively
advanced ways, archaeologist David
Braun of the University of Cape Town
in South Africa remarks in a comment
in the same issue of Nature. Lucy’s kind
had fingers short enough to manipulate
stone tools and a humanlike rib cage
that would have accommodated a digestive tract capable of processing large
amounts of meat (SN: 7/17/10, p. 5).
Archaeologist Alison Brooks of George
Washington University in Washington,
D.C., says the Dikika fossils support her
view that ancient primates employed
stones as tools even before the origin
of hominids around 7 million years ago.
Brooks notes that modern chimpanzees
and capuchin monkeys use stones to
crack nuts (SN: 11/21/09, p. 24).
One of the bones described in the new
report, a rib fragment, comes from a cow-sized mammal; the other comes from
the upper leg of a goat-sized mammal.
These fossils were found between volcanic deposits previously dated to 3. 24
million and 3.42 million years ago, but
were much closer to the older deposit.
Scanning electron microscopy indicated that sharp-edged stones had created incisions on the bones. Chemical
analysis showed the incisions had been
made before fossilization.
Cutting and scraping of meat yielded
distinctive patterns on both bones,
McPherron’s team asserts. One indentation contained a tiny embedded piece
of rock that probably chipped off a tool.
Additional damage on the leg fossil came
from hammering with a large stone, the
researchers say, probably to obtain nutri-ent-rich marrow inside the bone.
Lucy’s relatives would have had
to travel six kilometers (nearly four
miles) west of Dikika to find rocks
suitable for tools, McPherron says.
That suggests to Braun that “the meat
and marrow of large animals must
have been a valued resource.”
Dikika ReseaRch PRoject