Stone cutting tools link early humans to prehistoric India

March 25, 2011, AAAS
Stone cutting tools link early humans to prehistoric India
Extensive excavations brought to light stratified sequences of occupation by prehistoric populations.

Dating of recently discovered artifacts in South India indicates that early humans lived in the region more than a million years ago, and that they used distinct 'Acheulian' stone cutting tools, a new study reports in journal Science.

Acheulian tools originated in Africa around 1.5 million years ago and are thought to have spread throughout Eurasia.

The exact chronology of this spread, however, has been a longstanding puzzle. Knowing how old the oval and pear-shaped hand axes, cleavers and other are will help archeologists understand early into South Asia and the Indonesian archipelago.

The artifacts were discovered in one of the richest Paleolithic sites in Tamil Nadu, India, called Attirampakkam. Nestled in the Kortallayar , the site was discovered in 1863 by British geologist Robert Bruce Foote, and has been excavated (off and on) since then.

Shanti Pappu and colleagues determined the ages of these tools, which suggest that Acheulian tool-making humans were present in South Asia around a million years ago or earlier, existing at the same time as other populations in southwest Asia and Africa.

The team discovered more than 3,500 quartzite stone artifacts, including more than 70 Acheulian hand axes, cleavers and flakes (small chipped stones).

By taking paelomagnetic measurements, the researchers were able to directly date the sediments that covered the Acheulian tools. All paleomagnetic measurements from around the site showed a reversed polarity, meaning that the predates the period after the last reversal of Earth’s magnetic field.

The discovery of reverse polarity establishes the fact that the sediments are more than a million years old.

To obtain an even more precise age of the artifacts, the researchers applied a burial dating technique that measures isotopes of two earth metals, aluminum and beryllium.

The findings hint that with distinctive tools migrated throughout Eurasia over a million years ago.

A related Perspective outlines the paper’s major findings and discusses how this new evidence affects scientists understanding of the South Asian Acheulian.

Explore further: Hand axes in Europe nearly a million years old: study

More information: "Early Pleistocene Presence of Acheulian Hominins in South India," by S. Pappu et al., Science (2011).

Related Stories

The 'spread of our species'

November 8, 2005

Modern humans arrival in South Asia may have led to demise of indigenous populations. In a major new development in human evolutionary studies, researchers from the University of Cambridge argue that the dispersal of modern ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 26, 2011
1 million years. Amazing. Not 'us', nor Neanderthal, but still... pre 'us'.
What is interesting is that science also says that about 60k years ago, 'we' were nearly wiped out .. to a worldwide population of less than 100k.
So much happened is so short a geologic time. And we don't know anything about anything older than 500M years.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2011
That was the Toba eruption 70kya and it's thought that there were only 3000 - 10,000 human survivors on the whole planet.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.