Hand axe made from a hippopotamus femur discovered in Ethiopia was used by early ancestors 1.4 MILLION years ago

  • Archaeologists unearthed an ancient hand axe used by Homo erectus 
  • The tool dates back 1.4 million years and was found in Ethiopia in Africa
  • This hand axe is unique, as it was constructed from a  hippopotamus femur
  • Most tools from this era were constructed from hard stone found in the region 

Researchers have made a spectacular discovery – a hand axe constructed from animal bones used by members of Homo erectus.

Ancient stone tools have been previously unearthed in Africa, but the latest discovery was formed from a hippopotamus femur 1.4 million years ago -making it the oldest of its kind.

The tool derives from the Konso Formation in southern Ethiopia, where an abundant of ancient stone artifacts have been found.

The oval-shaped instrument is about five inches long and appears to have been  used to butcher animals for food.

Researchers have made a spectacular discovery – a hand axe constructed from animal bones used by members of Homo erectus.

The ancient tool was found by the University of Tokyo, along with a team from Ethiopia and Hong Kong.

Following an analysis of the hand axe, the team observed at least 44 secondary flake scars that were up to one inch long.

‘Both the distribution pattern of flake scars and the high frequency of cone fractures are strong indicators of deliberate flaking,’ reads the study published in PNAS.

The team believes this tool was used for butchering animals, according to the edge damage and polish throughout.

Ancient stone tools have been previously unearthed in Africa, but the latest discovery was formed from a hippopotamus femur 1.4 million years ago -making it the oldest of its kind

‘The combined evidence is consistent with the use of this bone artifact in longitudinal motions, such as in cutting and/or sawing,’ shares the team in the study.

‘This bone hand axe is the oldest known extensively flaked example from the Early Pleistocene.’

And it is only the second hand axe found from this period that is made from bone.

The construction also shows that members of Homo erectus had the ability create more advanced tools, providing insight to their intelligence.

However, the team is uncertain to why the toolmaker chose to use bone when stone, which is stronger, was available.

About 1.7 million years ago early humans created hand axes – some of the first stone tools – but how their hand’s developed to be able to use them effectively has remained a mystery until recently.

Prior to the development of stone axes, our ancestors had weak wrists which would not be able to grip small objects as powerfully as is necessary to use a hand axe.

However, New Scientist reported in 2013 that a new hand bone had been discovered that helps to explain how human hands developed between 1.7 million years ago and 800,000 years ago.

In 2010, a team from the National Museums of Kenya discovered a new hand bone in Kenya.

Scientists at the University of Missouri identified the bone as a third metacarpal – the bone which runs across the palm linking the middle finger with the wrist.

In, 2013 a new hand bone had been discovered developed between 1.7 million years ago and 800,000 years ago.

The bone, which is thought to be about 1.4 million-years-old, keeps the wrist stable while a person is holding a small object between their thumb and fingers.

Hand bones of early Homo erectus are almost unknown, Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington told the New Scientist.

‘Having such a well-preserved specimen begins to answer questions about hand evolution,’ he said.

Dr Mary Marzke of Arizona State University explained to New Scientists that the bone proves that our ancestors’ hands were showing signs of evolution into their current form as much as 1.4 million years ago.

It is thought that all humans eventually developed this bone as those who had it initially were at an evolutionary advantage over those who did not.

EXPLAINED: HOMO ERECTUS EVOLVED 1.9 MILLION YEARS AGO IN AFRICA AND WAS A ‘GLOBAL TRAVELLER’

First thought to have evolved around 1.9 million years ago in Africa, Homo erectus was the first early human species to become a true global traveller.

They are known to have migrated from Africa into Eurasia, spreading as far as Georgia, Sri Lanka, China and Indonesia.

They ranged in size from just under five feet tall to over six feet. 

With a smaller brain and heavier brow than modern humans, they are thought to have been a key evolutionary step in our evolution.  

It was previously thought Homo erectus disappeared some 400,000 years ago.

However, this date has been dramatically reduced, with more recent estimates suggesting they went extinct just 140,000 years ago.

They are thought to have given rise to a number of different extinct human species including Homo heidelbergensis and Homo antecessor.

Homo erectus is thought to have lived in hunter gatherer societies and there is some evidence that suggests they used fire and made basic stone tools.

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