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Potts said he had examined the stone tools during a visit to Kenya in February.

“Researchers have thought there must be some way of flaking stone that preceded the simplest tools known until now,” he said.

Hominins are a group of species that includes modern humans, – were the first to craft such stone tools.

But researchers have been uncovering tantalizing clues that some other, earlier species of hominin, distant cousins, if you will, might have figured it out.

Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered.

The tools, whose makers may or may not have been some sort of human ancestor, push the known date of such tools back by 700,000 years; they also may challenge the notion that our own most direct ancestors were the first to bang two rocks together to create a new technology.

This led to another surprise: The area was at that time a partially wooded, shrubby environment.“The whole site’s surprising, it just rewrites the book on a lot of things that we thought were true,” said geologist Chris Lepre of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University, a co-author of the paper who precisely dated the artifacts.The tools ”shed light on an unexpected and previously unknown period of hominin behavior and can tell us a lot about cognitive development in our ancestors that we can't understand from fossils alone,” said lead author Sonia Harmand, of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University and the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre.tooth and a bone from a skull were discovered a few hundred meters away, and an as-yet unidentified tooth has been found about 100 meters away.The precise family tree of modern humans is contentious, and so far, no one knows exactly how .“Harmand’s team shows us just what this even simpler altering of rocks looked like before technology became a fundamental part of early human behavior.” Ancient stone artifacts from East Africa were first uncovered at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania in the mid-20th century, and those tools were later associated with fossil discoveries in the 1960s of the early human ancestor Subsequent finds have pushed back the dates of humans’ evolutionary ancestors, and of stone tools, raising questions about who first made that cognitive leap.The discovery of a partial lower jaw in the Afar region of Ethiopia, announced on March 4, pushes the fossil record for the genus had evolved into several distinct lines by 2 million years ago.The discovery is the first evidence that an even earlier group of proto-humans may have had the thinking abilities needed to figure out how to make sharp-edged tools.The stone tools mark “a new beginning to the known archaeological record,” say the authors of a new paper about the discovery, published today in the leading scientific journal Nature.That is the earliest evidence of meat and marrow consumption by hominins.No tools were found at the site, so it’s unclear whether the marks were made with crafted tools or simply sharp-edged stones.

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