Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fossils Suggest "Lucy" Species Used Stone Tools & Ate Meat

Two animal bones, both over three million years old, have yielded information to researchers that stone tools were used to butcher the animals for eating by early human ancestors, known as Australopithecus afarensis, the species best known for the "Lucy" fossil.

The study of the bones was published in the Thursday issue of the journal Nature by Zeresenay Alemseged and colleagues from the California Academy of Sciences.

The study claims afarensis carved the meat from the animal carcasses and used other stones to smash the bones to get the marrow.  Researchers believe this discovery is the earliest evidence of meat eating among hominins.  They believe the afarensis probably scavenged carcasses instead of actually hunting live prey.

Two female afarensis fossils have been found near the same site where the two animal bones were found.  In 1974 "Lucy" was found and latter, a female skeleton named "Selam" was found approximately 200 yards from the bone site.

Not all scientists are convinced by the research done by Alemseged and the California Academy of Sciences researchers. 

Paleoanthropologist Nicholas Toth of Indiana University has doubts because of the fact the bones were found on the surface rather than buried beneath the earth requiring excavation.  He also believes the markings on the bones differ from marks commonly left by stone tools, an area Toth studies.  Toth speculates the marks could have even been made by animal bites.

Other scientists agree with the Nature paper.

According to Bernard Wood of George Washington University, "I'd be willing to bet a month's salary that those are cut marks (from stone tools) and not tooth marks."

For more information about this interesting research and to see a photograph of the two animal bones you can read this MSNBC Technology and Science article.

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