When did modern humans emerge? 350,000-year-old tool discovered in Israel may challenge date for debut of Homo sapiens

A stone abrasion tool, dated to be some 350,000 years old, that was found in the Tabun Cave in Mount Carmel. Credit: University of Haifa
A stone abrasion tool, dated to be some 350,000 years old, that was found in the Tabun Cave in Mount Carmel. Credit: University of Haifa

Archaeologists believe they’ve found the oldest known tool used for grinding or scraping, dating back some 350,000 years.

Found in the Tabun Cave in northern Israel, the implement is a cobble, a type of small rounded stone, and predates homo sapiens by at least 50,000 years.

Previously, such tools weren’t thought to have been introduced until much later, approximately 200,000 years ago.

It was used by prehistoric hominids for ‘delicate abrading,’ researchers say, though for exactly what purpose is still unknown.

Made of the mineral dolomite, the tool was first uncovered in the 1960s, but its simplistic appearance led it to be largely ignored for decades.

More recently it was reexamined by a team from the University of Haifa’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology.

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It’s evidence that “at such an early stage a very significant technology was added to [the hominids’] ‘toolbox,” according to the researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Human Evolution.

‘While the tool is seemingly ‘simple,’ its early appearance and the fact that it has no parallel in such an early stage of human evolution give it world importance.’

They hypothesize it was used to work soft animal hides but whether for clothing or some other purpose is still a mystery.

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