The Lomekwi 3 discovery raises many new challenging questions for paleoanthropologists. For one, what could have caused hominins to start knapping tools at such an early date? The traditional view was that hominins started knapping to make sharp-edged flakes so they could cut meat from animal carcasses. Maybe they used the larger cobbles to break open animal bones to get at the marrow. While the Lomekwi knappers certainly made sharp-edged flakes from stone cores, the tools’ size and the battering marks on their surfaces suggest they were doing something different as well. And we know they were in a more wooded environment with access to various plant resources. We’re conducting experimental work to help reconstruct how the tools were used.

Another unknown is what was happening archaeologically between 3.3 and 2.6 Ma. We’ve jumped so far back with this discovery, we need to try to connect the dots forward to what we know was happening in the early Oldowan.

Of course, the most intriguing question is whether even older stone tools remain to be discovered. We have no doubt that these aren’t the very first tools that hominins made. The Lomekwi tools show that the knappers already had an understanding of how stones can be intentionally broken—beyond what the first hominin who accidentally hit two stones together and produced a sharp flake would have had. We think there are older, even more primitive artifacts out there, and we’re headed back out into the badlands of northern Kenya to look for them.

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