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African bone tool discovery has important implications for evolution of human behavior

An emerging set of archaeological evidence may answer a key question in the human origins debate by providing proof that not only did early Homo sapiens come "out of Africa," as Homo erectus did, but that they came out fully modern, with fully developed modern behaviors that had evolved much earlier than previously thought. The new evidence includes the recent discovery in a South African cave of a large set of specialized bone tools, all dated at more than 70,000 years old. The discovery conclusively proves that human use of formal bone tool technology is more than twice as old as the previously accepted dates. The advent of bone tools was a major development in human tool technology and is considered by many archaeologists to be a key indicator of "behavioral modernity" in humans.

An analysis of the find, forthcoming in the December issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, argues that this ancient use of bone tool technology, together with related discoveries, has strong implications that "behavioral modernity" first evolved in Africa and has a much longer history than most archaeologists believe.

"The real implications are that there was modern human behavior in Africa about 35,000 years before Europe," said lead author Christopher S. Henshilwood, affiliate archaeologist at Iziko - South African Museum in Cape Town , and adjunct associate professor of archaeology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

"What has been suggested up until now is that modern human behavior was a very late occurrence. The implication was that though people were anatomically modern in Africa from about 150,000 to 100,000 years ago, they remained behaviorally non-modern until about 40,000 or 50 000 years ago, when they suddenly changed and then moved into Europe and elsewhere."

The paper, authored by Henshilwood with archaeologists Francesco dErrico of the Institut de Prehistoire et de Geologie du Quaternaire, Curtis W. Marean of the Institute
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Contact: James Hathaway
Hathaway@asu.edu
480-965-6375
Arizona State University
6-Nov-2001


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