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The Rise of the Crocodile Hunters

The skull of Australopithecus sediba from Malapa in South Africa.

The skull of Australopithecus sediba from Malapa in South Africa. Photo by Brett Eloff courtesy Lee Berger

By Andy Herries

Recent excavations in Kenya have revealed the first evidence that a diet of fish and crocodiles two million years ago may have aided the development of larger brains in the human lineage.

Andy Herries is Senior Research Fellow at the University of NSW School of Medical Sciences. He helped estimate the age of the archaeological remains at FwJj20.

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The oldest evidence of human cultural remains, in the form of stone tools, is 2.6–2.5 million years at Gona in Ethiopia. These stone tools are attributed to the Oldowan stone tool industry (named after Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where they were first found).

The Oldowan is a very simple stone tool industry consisting of cobbles that have had small flakes removed from them to make a type of tool known as choppers. Both the flakes themselves and the choppers were then used as tools, but what were the tools used for?

Residues left on stone tools from about 2.0–1.4 million years in Kenya suggests that the tools were used for a range of activities including processing wood, plant remains and also processing meat. It is unlikely, given the simplistic technology, that the makers of the stone tools were hunting animals with them.

The closest relatives of human tapeworms are tapeworms that affect African hyenas. This suggests that our early ancestors shared saliva with hyenas, most likely from scavenging from carcasses.

Studies of younger Oldowan stone tools and associated animal bones suggests that in many cases humans were accessing the carcasses of dead animals after carnivores had already eaten much of the meat. Humans were seemingly scavenging any remaining meat from the carcasses as well as accessing a source of protein that was not accessible...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.