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Stone Tool 1.83M Years Old Discovered In Malaysia 200

Posted by kdawson
from the chipping-away-at-it dept.
goran72 writes with news out of Malaysia that archaeologists have announced the discovery of stone tools more than 1.8 million years old — the earliest evidence of human ancestors in South-east Asia. Researchers believe the tools were made by members of the early human ancestor species Homo erectus. The tools actually date as slightly older than the earliest H. erectus fossils, which came from Georgia and China. No bones of that antiquity have so far been found in Malaysia. "The stone hand-axes were discovered last year in the historical site of Lenggong in northern Perak state, embedded in a type of rock formed by meteorites which was sent to a Japanese lab to be dated."
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Stone Tool 1.83M Years Old Discovered In Malaysia

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  • by wjh31 (1372867) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:32PM (#26687643) Homepage
    at what point does a stone that happens to have been eroded/chipped naturally into the rough shape of an axe-head become a stone that has been intentionally crafted by (pre)human hands. How likely is it that these things are a case of seeing things because we want to, c.f the face in the rocks on mars
  • Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Webs 101 (798265) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @07:39PM (#26688059) Homepage

    I have no problem with the imterpretation that these are stone tools from 1.8 MYA (and you can tell by my pretentious use of the "MYA" abbreviation that I was once on the road to related Ph.D.).

    But I don't understand this:

    The stone hand-axes were discovered last year...embedded in a type of rock formed by meteorites....

    How or why were these tools embedded in rock formed by meteorites? This rock was either formed before or after the tools. If formed before, they could only have been embedded manually, by H. erectus miners, I guess.

    If the rock formed later, then these tools survived intact a meteorite strike, which seems unlikely. (Or was the rock formed by meteorite splash sediments?)

    There is one other possibility, but it's so unlikely that I reject it: that the tools and rocks were thrown up in to the air and the whole mess coalesced and solidified.

    I wish the article had more info, or I could find the original paper, although here [yahoo.com] is an AP article with a photo of the rocks.

  • by DiegoBravo (324012) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:15PM (#26688317) Journal

    > Neither of the natural patterns are likely to lead to the organised pattern of chips that a worked stone would exhibit.

    It depends. Up to this day there is a big number of inconclusive cases where archaeologists "discovered" sets of "older stone tools" but there is no clear consensus but acid disputes.

    Of course when you have the nice bifacial spearpoints depicted in most books your argument is valid, but in a lot of "unifacial industries" typically oriented to cutting wood and plants, there are no such clear traces of chipping you allude. In several areas, a lot of originally "non interesting" stones are being reevaluated (always with several levels of controversy); the case is that probably most of the "stone age" tools and cultures are of this "ugly" kind.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Sunday February 01, 2009 @09:33PM (#26688763) Homepage Journal

    The axe doesn't look capable of making a dent in magnetite. Much more likely is that this is a translation error. I could easily see the stone axes found being used to chip away at softer rock around a meteorite, or being hammered under the meteorite in an attempt to produce a gap large enough to lever the meteorite out.

    However, this begs a question. What would they want with a meteorite? Meteoric iron was popular for swords, but iron swords weren't available for another 1,829,400 years. Art deco? Somehow, I don't imagine H. Erectus having too many yuppies in the population. Besides, meteorites are heavy and this was still some time before stable static populations emerged.

  • That's news to me. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jcr (53032) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Sunday February 01, 2009 @10:41PM (#26689311) Journal

    Also rather surprising, since I've seen examples of flint tools made by modern researchers by striking edges. Got a link?

    -jcr

  • by canadian_right (410687) <alexander.russell@telus.net> on Sunday February 01, 2009 @11:28PM (#26689595) Homepage

    Some stone tools were naturally formed and used "as is" by ancient peoples. A trained archeologist can tell the difference due to a number of distinguishing marks that tools purposely made will have.

    These methods are pretty standard things to learn:
    Archaeological Laboratory Methods By Mark Q. Sutton, Brooke S. Arkush [google.ca]

    Pretty standard stuff, and a question that was asked and answered a long time ago.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Sunday February 01, 2009 @11:52PM (#26689785) Homepage Journal

    Possibly, but we're talking almost a million years older than the oldest known organized religion for which any evidence exists. We're talking so early that many anthropologists reject outright that such people had the mental capacity for complex ritual.

    (I suspect the anthropologists are wrong on that, but the lack of any evidence of ritual worship older than about 800,000 years ago takes precedence over my personal feelings on the matter.)

  • by lordSaurontheGreat (898628) on Monday February 02, 2009 @03:24AM (#26691353) Homepage

    Interestingly enough, there's a bunch of scientists and archaeologists who were trying to replicate the obsidian spearheads and arrowheads that you can find all over the place. Obviously you have to carefully chip the rock with another piece of hard rock...

    Oh, those scientists are still unable to do what cro-magnon man could: make a simple obsidian rock pointy like an arrowhead. Something, somewhere, went terribly wrong...

    Go figure.

    Also interesting is that many hospitals are moving to (modern synthetic) obsidian scalpels because the edge on them is only a few molecules thick. They actually cut, whereas "razor" scalpels only tear. Torn skin heals slowly, but if you're cut with an obsidian scalpel you'll heal much faster with less of a visible scar.

    Perhaps the "lesser" humans were on to something before us "big brained ones" bumped 'em off?

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:44AM (#26693313)

    It is more of an art then a science. The Stone tools were made by crafts men of the day. Not some guy who has done a bunch of research about the past and dedicates a week or so to master a skill that took people a lifetime to master and pass to the next generation.
    It is like a scientist saying I can't paint like they did back the the 1700's they must be using some high tech method back then that we may have lost.

  • Too early to judge (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dr La (1342733) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:42AM (#26694001) Homepage
    I am a professional early stone age archeologist, so naturally this has my attention. Unfortunately, as long as the stuff is not properly published, there is no way to ascertain the reliability of the claim. The latter will hinge on:

    a) are it really stone tools;
    b) is the dating reliable (and there is more to this than just lab techniques).

    Without clear details having yet been published to judge those, I remain very cautious. SE Asia has a history of dubious claims for stone "tools", and dubious dates attached to (real) stone tools. Partly, this has to do with the complex geology in many parts of the area. Partly this has to do with a persistent old-fashioned typochronological approach to archaeology with some SE Asian scholars (in which primitive looking "must" be old - while they not necessarily are).

    Point to consider is that in SE Asia, bifacial tools are present that technologically look like the Acheulean (Lower Palaeolithic handaxe cultures of Africa and Europe), but are in fact Neolithic (i.e. from the last 5000 years).

    In answer to some of the earlier comments: when chipped stone comes from high energy fluvial (water-laid) deposits, it is sometimes very difficult to make the distinction between intentionally flaked stone (shaped by human hand) or "geofacts", stone flaked by geological force (like tossing and banging against each other in a high energy stream). The latter sometimes can look very convincing. The same goes for tephrafacts (pseudo-artifacts created in a volcanic environment). Unfortunately, SE Asia with it's high energy monsoonal river systems is an ideal environment for the creation of geofacts. It is also an environment where chronologies are sometimes horribly and notoriously screwed up.

    So we have to await publication of the details before we are able to say anything serious about this extraordinary claim.

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