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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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  • Archaeology (Score:5, Funny)

    by BigBadBus (653823) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:22PM (#26687559) Homepage
    More examples here [amazon.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:24PM (#26687583)

    "The stone hand-axes were discovered last year ...embedded in a type of rock formed by meteorites"
    Since the earth is only 6000 years old, the simplest explanation (Occams razor) must be these stone axes must have been created by some stone-age aliens in their big granite spaceships.

    • Re:Occams razor (Score:5, Informative)

      by Thiez (1281866) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:37PM (#26687675)

      Accepting the axioma of the earth being 6000 years old, Occam's razor would cut you for introducing new entities where they are not needed. More logical would be that someone used a granite rock from outer space to create stone axes and then arrange for some scientist to 'find' them.

      • by legirons (809082) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @07:20PM (#26687933)

        More logical would be that someone used a granite rock from outer space to create stone axes and then arrange for some scientist to 'find' them.

        Or that the axe was used to build the earth

    • by lxs (131946)
      The meteor was real.Tektites [wikipedia.org] are found throughout the area (which stretches from Vietnam to Australia ) indicating a large meteorite impact. The stone axes are intriguing, but I reserve judgment until we get more substatial information than TFA which has about as much substantiated information in it as a von Daniken book.
  • by syousef (465911) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:25PM (#26687597) Journal

    "So that's where I left my hand axe. Clumsy me!" said Dorthy Dinosaur before proceeding to eat more children from the front row at the Wiggles concert.

    • by weighn (578357) <weighn@@@gmail...com> on Sunday February 01, 2009 @07:28PM (#26687967) Homepage
      It's Dorothy the Dinosaur and she eats flowers, not children. Just explaining for the benefit of my son who was traumatised to read your post :)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Gryle (933382)
        If you wanted your kid to remain un-traumatized , you probably shouldn't have let him visit Slashdot.
  • heh... (Score:5, Funny)

    by erroneus (253617) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:30PM (#26687623) Homepage

    ... homo erectus tool :-D

  • 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
    • by Shaitan Apistos (1104613) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:36PM (#26687661)

      Seeing creation where there is only nature? Nah, doesn't sound like something we'd do.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        It wouldn't be "only nature" if the rock looks like the Virgin Mary. Hopefully it does, so we can see pictures of it on Ebay.

    • by StefanJ (88986)

      The Harbor Freight logo on the base was a dead give-away.

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:44PM (#26687709)

      You were probably not a Boy Scout as a kid. There is actually a lot of work to make a sharp object out of a stone that is sharp and concisely sharp enough to be useful. Weather erosion like to make smooth surfaces not sharp ones. Rock chips at best will be good for poking but not cutting. So man made stone tools are actually quite different then a naturally occurring tool

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        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) o

        • by Iron Sun (227218) on Monday February 02, 2009 @06:23AM (#26692189)

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

          Um, what? Obsidian knapping is practiced by many people around the world who are quite capable [primitiveways.com] of producing fine points. You can find howtos on YouTube [youtube.com], so it's far from being a lost secret of the ancients.

          Best to check those overly broad claims before committing yourself to perpetuating them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jellomizer (103300)

          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.

          • by mbstone (457308)

            Since it is a Craftsman tool, just return it to the nearest Sears store in the U.S. and Sears will replace it, free of charge. This warranty gives you specific legal rights and you may also have other rights which vary from state to state and eon to eon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by GooberToo (74388)

        Rock chips at best will be good for poking but not cutting. So man made stone tools are actually quite different then a naturally occurring tool

        It really depends on the type of rock. Some rock, after being chipped become sharper than most modern day knives and are absolutely used for cutting. In fact, a rock smaller than the size of three of your fingers can be used to butcher an animal the size of a mammoth in about a day's time.

        The wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] incorrectly refers to it as "flint knapping", whereas, i

    • by Zocalo (252965) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @06:46PM (#26687721) Homepage
      The article doesn't say, but if it's a flint then the stone is incredibly brittle and takes a considerable amount of skill to work without shattering the stone. Working flint (or any stone) to a point or an edge leaves a distinctive pattern of markings on the stone which would be all but impossible to have occurred naturally as you basically need to flake off the unwanted bits of flint until you get the desired edge or point. Natural weathering of stone tends to fall into a limited number of types, predominantly rounding through contact erosion, and shearing which is usually caused by freezing water breaking a stone in two. Neither of the natural patterns are likely to lead to the organised pattern of chips that a worked stone would exhibit.
      • 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.

      • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @10:33PM (#26689253) Journal
        Work with the native American cultures in Utah has shown that flint was not "chipped" into shape by striking. Arrow heads and spear points were shaped by heating the rock and dripping water on it. Thermal shock did the hard work. Yes, it took a considerable amount of work and skill to shape, but does not require impact that might shatter the rock. Pretty sophisticated technology for the day, but really all you needed was rock (flint, jasper or similar), fire, water and a steady hand. Try it yourself.
    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      How likely is it that these things are a case of seeing things because we want to

      Or because their grant money was running out. Malaysia is a very results-oriented society. I'm surprised they didn't dynamite the stuff out of the ground. Heck, for all I know, they did.

    • by Scaba (183684)

      OMG, they probably never even considered that! It's not as if they are trained archaeologists or anything...oh, wait.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by Colonel Korn (1258968)

        OMG, they probably never even considered that! It's not as if they are trained archaeologists or anything...oh, wait.

        Archaeologists do make this sort of mistake, and can often be found guilty of wishful thinking. If there were a picture attached to TFA we could judge for ourselves. Being too lazy to look up related journal articles, I'm going to guess that most likely the conclusions are correct, but not beyond a certainty of about 90%.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gregbot9000 (1293772)

        Yep, because training by spending years sitting at desk means that they are now Ivory members of the intellectual elite well beyond us unwashed.

        Little anecdote for you: Two experts are walking along, and one sees a $100 bill in the gutter and he asks his friend "Is that a $100 bill?" to which the friend replies """well it looks like it, but if it were obviously someone walking by before us must have seen it, so the fact that they didn't take it proves that it must not be," and off they walk.

        Science works th

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by drpt (1257416)
      i got the axe for becoming stoned
    • I was wondering the same thing, but the article was pretty disappointing. There was no further information than what was already on the /. main page. Not even a picture. :(

    • I guess you have to find out the existential persuasions of the archaeologists before you can answer that question. If they lean at all toward the notion of "intelligent design", they might see evidence of some sort of design - humanoid in this case - everywhere they dig, whereas a strict naturalist might just see materials formed by unusual but nevertheless natural processes.

      Skepticism and literalism are useful but much-maligned survival traits.

      • by Guido von Guido (548827) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @09:40PM (#26688803)

        Well, they do have previously discovered examples of Lower Paleolithic tools to compare this find with. I think the original finds were pretty thoroughly (and skeptically) reviewed.

        I don't think the comparison to Intelligent Design is very useful. In Intelligent Design, we know nothing about the Designer, the Designer's methods or the Designer's goals. There is no real experimental work being done.

        In contrast, we have a pretty good idea of who made (or who would have made) these tools, what their goals were and what their methods were. Based on this, we can do quite a bit of experimentation to figure out what we don't know (or even whether or not they're tools at all).

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by macraig (621737)

          I meant it merely as a rhetorical example, of people who are so motivated to find or justify a particular thing that it will pervert how they interpret what they find or observe. That type of personality is not absent in scientific disciplines, though it certainly should be. It all hinges on whether and how much a person becomes emotionally invested in some idea or thing. Remember the story of the Piltdown Man hoax? Even after the hoax was revealed, there were some "scientists" who for a time stubbornly

    • by TapeCutter (624760) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @09:01PM (#26688579) Journal
      "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."

      That question seriously underestimates the abilities of both those who made stone tools and those who found them.
    • by jd (1658) <imipak @ y a h o o .com> on Sunday February 01, 2009 @09:13PM (#26688637) Homepage Journal

      The only site with a decent image [thestate.com].

      A little more info [thearynews.com]

      Some more bits of info [zeenews.com]

      As can be seen from the first link, the object is not fractured along natural lines and is definitely axe-shaped. It is not some irregular thing that could have been formed by a boulder smashing down a river.

      The material is not flint. I am not certain what it is, but it's not a flint.

    • by timmarhy (659436)
      it can be determined by regular shaping and chipping of the rock that doesn't naturally happen with that type of mineral. the other give away is finding more than one in the same area. even if by some random chance the rock ended up looking like an axe naturally, it won't happen 2 or 3 times more in the same immediate area.
    • 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.

      • by emilper (826945)

        informative +1

      • by Abcd1234 (188840)

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

        Yeah, the difference is, here on Slashdot, you get modded +1 Insightful for asking a painfully obvious question that scientists have already put to bed, presumably because it is assumed, here, that scientists are actually really fucking stupid.

    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      More links at southeastasianarchaeology.com [southeasta...eology.com].

      Photos at The Star [thestar.com.my].

      It's pretty crude, but there wasn't just one "axe" there. They're man-made.

    • by EvilIdler (21087)

      If the axe-heads and whatever (they say "tools", plural, so I assume there was more) have holes roughly appropriate for a handle, they have a good chance of being actual tools. The article was lacking in pictures, though.

    • by emilper (826945)

      The chipped stones used by Homo Erectus don't look much like instruments, anyway. The answer is: if the rock has marks it was used as a tool (for example, tiny but characteristic scratches along the "blade": sometimes it is even possible to tell what kind of material a stone tool was used to cut by looking at those scratches), or if it is associated (in the same strata and close by) with items that are indubitably made by humans.

      There are rocks that look very much like tools early hominids would have used,

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      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.

      Well, a technical answer to your question would probably take several dozen papers in the realms of the neurobiology and psychology of image processing, with all sorts of excursions into computerised image processing etc. Add in some /.-isms about automated facial recognition by CCTV and you've got 2/3 of the thread that it w

  • Que the organ music, fade in picture of a black obelisk...
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      Organ music?

      What 2001: A Space Odyssey were you watching?

      • Well, okay, but I was in a hurry and not paying attention. Cue orchestra music: Thus Spake Zarathustra.

        Happy?
        • And please don't tell me this is "Also sprach Zarathustra". That is simply an ambiguity of translation and not worth my time.
          • And please don't tell me this is "Also sprach Zarathustra". That is simply an ambiguity of translation and not worth my time.

            The opening and final notes of that piece are played on an organ. So I can understand where the OP was coming from.

  • by duckInferno (1275100) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @07:22PM (#26687945) Journal
    This stone tool is clearly a relic left behind from the Jurassic Elves, whose reign over Earth was ended almost two million years ago by the collision of the Shield of Immortality with the Sword of Penetrating Awesomeness. The world was torn asunder and all evidence of these majestic elfy creatures was lost to the massive geological events spanning between then and now, which simultaneously wiped out the Dark Dwarves of the Deep (having set up their vast cavernous cities under dormant volcanoes and all).

    Unless the talking snake people are right and was infact placed by a monotheistic/polytheistic combo deity to fool everyone into thinking he doesn't exist, so that he can punish said people with eternal suffering.

    It could also have belonged to the Migit, the first being to be crafted by his Noodliness' divine appendage. RAmen.
  • 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 owlstead (636356)

      I am guessing that it would be embedded in a very rocky layer (thus you would have the larger rock or rocks, with the tools + loads of dirt between them).

      Also note: I've got nothing to do at all with MYA, and I will deny any relations I don't have with her (there goes +1 insightful, oh well).

    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Funny)

      by citizenr (871508) on Sunday February 01, 2009 @08:48PM (#26688497) Homepage
      actually there is fourth possibility - they were embedded inside meteorite before hitting earth :P
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jd (1658)

      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,

      • It would be interesting if these people turned out to have a use for iron. Another thing to note is that Perak is known for tin mining. Tin is easier to work than iron so they may have had a use for it.
    • by houghi (78078)

      but it's so unlikely that I reject it

      That is almost literally what people said when they first read "Of the origin of Species". Do not reject it because it is unlikely, reject it because it can't happen.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Experts say the result has a margin of error of 610,000 years and the find has to be approved by other experts as well, AP reported."

    I think this piece of info is worth mentioning.

  • I thought you could date only organic matter based on carbon 14.

    • by w0mprat (1317953) on Monday February 02, 2009 @01:32AM (#26690623)
      Carbon dating is not the only dating technique. There are actually perhaps 30-35 different common dating techniques with useful time range from a matter of decades to billions of years, tens of billions of years infact.

      Another common one is radiometric dating which gives you a range of 700 million to 50 billion years (!). In a way Carbon 14 dating is radiometric dating, it's just using one particular isotope. In reality there a many different isotopes that may be used to suit the range you need.

      Since the stone tool is not organic matter, carbon 14 would not be useful. Carbon dating gets too inaccurate after 50,000 years.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sabz5150 (1230938)

        Carbon dating gets too inaccurate after 50,000 years.

        Carbon dating doesn't just become inaccurate after 50,000 years... it becomes impossible to distinguish between measurable C14 decay and background radiation. It's completely inapplicable at that age.

  • It is a bit discouraging that there is evidence that old, of tool making beings on this planet. I would have thought intelligent life was much younger, and much less evolved, based on my personal observations.

    Heck, even on this very web site, the are still arguing over vi vs emacs.

    Give me a break!
    • by w0mprat (1317953)
      Some would question whether intelligent life has even been found on earth.

      Some go further to doubt it will even emerge, artificial intelligence may not get there, so far all we have is artificial stupidity.
  • -- and all of it will happen again.
  • Found stamped on the bottom.

  • I anticipate we will find tools much older, somewhere between five and fifteen million years. The reason is that that is the age of the common ancestor of humans and chimps and gorillas.

    Here is a movie of a wooden hammer and anvil use in chimpanzees: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AElmAJH2G00# [youtube.com]

    There is another movie of a captive chimp (or bonobo) hammer two rocks creating sharp edges to cut meat. But I cannot find it now. They were not designed, however, but pretty rough and unpolished. Still, good for the p

  • Japanese lab to be dated.

    Those japanese will try anything to...

  • Ok, fine, you find a tool that the ROCK that it is made of dates back to 1.8 million years. So what? Does this mean that the composition of the rock changed at the time it was formed into a tool? Wouldn't the carbon dating stay the same before and after the "chipping away" of the portions that that were removed to form the tool? So the rock is 1.8 million years old, who is to say that the TOOL is not only 750 years old?

    Am I missing something here?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by emilper (826945)

      They did not date the rock the tool was made off, but the rock in the strata the tool was found in.

      The bit about being "a type of rock formed by meteorites" quite probably means that the surrounding rock had bits of glass resulting from a meteorite impact. As with cooled magma, it is possible to measure the products of radioactive decay that are trapped in the rock, such as radon, who would have been freed while the rock was still hot, and determine the approximate date at which the rock cooled off. Of cour

  • Dmanisi 1.77Ma (Score:3, Informative)

    by epine (68316) on Monday February 02, 2009 @02:52AM (#26691167)

    It's unclear these days where erectus begins.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/20/science/20fossil.htm [nytimes.com]

    The Dmanisi specimens were quite different. Their skull sizes indicated that their brains were not much larger than the brain of a chimpanzee. Their brains were closer in size to those of Homo habilis, a poorly understood earlier ancestral species.

    In the last few years, however, the researchers collected more extensive, well-preserved skeletal remains of an adolescent and three adults. Some of the fossils resembled those of later erectus specimens in Africa. The lower limbs and arched feet reflected traits "for improved terrestrial locomotor performance," the team reported.

    Over all, the fossils were "a surprising mosaic" of primitive and evolved features. The small body and small craniums, the upper limbs, elbows and shoulders were more like the earliest habilis specimens.

    • this quote from that article:

      "My hunch," Dr. Lieberman wrote, "is that the Dmanisi and early African H. erectus fossils represent different populations of a single, highly variable species."

      just really floors me. Talk about wishful thinking.

  • I have stuff in my refrigerator that's 1.83M years old, you insensitive clod!
  • Too early to judge (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dr La (1342733)
    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
  • FTFA:

    embedded in a type of rock formed by meteorites

    Correct me if I am wrong; I think one of the aspects of Meteorites is that they come from off planet.

  • The rock itself may be 1.3 million years old....but how do they know the Homo who sharpened it was there when it was created? Exactly....they don't. It's not like finding a fossil or something. The base rock may be ancient, but I could go in my back yard and find an old rock and sharpen it this afternoon and it doesn't prove a thing (except maybe I have too much time on my hands).

  • That's where I left that darn thing. Please sent it to me, and look around for my cars keys too. Last thing I remember I had them both in my hands at the same time....

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