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Oldest Stone Tool Sheds Light on Movements of Early Humans

Dec 24, 2014 10:16 AM EST

Scientists have just discovered the oldest stone tool ever in Turkey, a find that's shedding light on the movements of early humans in the area, a new study says.

"This discovery is critical for establishing the timing and route of early human dispersal into Europe. Our research suggests that the flake is the earliest securely-dated artifact from Turkey ever recorded and was dropped on the floodplain by an early hominin well over a million years ago," researcher Danielle Schreve, from the University of Royal Holloway London, said in a statement.

The flake that Schreve is referring to is a humanly-worked quartzite flake, found in ancient deposits of the river Gediz located in western Turkey. Remarkably, this little pinkish stone is telling scientists a lot about when and how early humans dispersed out of Africa and Asia. Specifically, this tool revealed that humans passed through the gateway from Asia to Europe about 1.2 million years ago - much earlier than previously thought.

"The flake was an incredibly exciting find," Schreve added.

Researchers relied on high-precision radioisotopic dating and palaeomagnetic measurements from lava flows, which both pre-date and post-date the sediment samples from the river, to determine when early humans migrated through present-day Turkey. Until now, the oldest hominin fossils in western Turkey were found in 2007 at Koçabas, but scientists were unable to nail down a precise date of these and other stone tool finds.

With this latest discovery, published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, scientists can say that early humans were present in the area between approximately 1.24 million and 1.17 million years ago.

"By working together with geologists and dating specialists," Schreve said, "we have been able to put a secure chronology to this find and shed new light on the behavior of our most distant ancestors."

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