Researchers Dispute Report on Early Butchers

November 16th, 2010 | by addis portal |

A report in August that the early ancestors of humans used stone tools to butcher meat at least 3.4 million years ago is being challenged by other researchers, who say that the study misinterpreted cut marks in animal bones.

“They look like cut marks made from stone tools, but they are not,” said Manuel Domínquez-Rodrigo, an archaeologist at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain and one of the authors of the new report, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “They look very different when you look at them microscopically.”

Microscopic analysis and comparisons with other bones revealed that the markings were more likely scratches caused by animals trampling across the bones, he said.

The first study, by an international team of paleoanthropologists, archaeologists and geologists, including Shannon P. McPherron, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Zeresenay Alemseged, an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist at the California Academy of Sciences, proposed that the species Australopithecus afarensis, which lived in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, used stone tools.

The species is best known for a skeleton named Lucy. Because of its large teeth, it was assumed to be primarily vegetarian.

But scientists who found the animal bones, a fossilized rib and thighbone, said that the cut marks on it were indisputable evidence that Australopithecus was using stone tools to butcher meat about 800,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Though the bones with cut marks were uncovered, no remnants of stone tools were found in the area, Dr. Domínquez-Rodrigo said.

This made him and some of his colleagues suspicious. A microscopic analysis of the bones validated their doubts, he said.

That means that scientists must revert back to the previous date for when stone tools were first used to butcher meat, about 2.5 million years ago, he said.

“We must go back to this later date that we had,” Dr. Domínquez-Rodrigo said. “That is the oldest evidence that we can identify for meat consumption by humans.”

Be Sociable, Share!

You must be logged in to post a comment.