Turkey is considered the gateway from Asia to Europe for our distant ancestors, and based on a newly discovered stone tool -- the oldest on record for the area -- researchers think humans dispersed out of Asia around 1.2 million years ago. That’s much earlier than previously thought, according to new work published in Quaternary Science Reviews.
Stone aged artifacts and fossils have previously been unearthed in western Turkey (in a region known as Anatolia) in limestone sediments at Kocabaş in the Denizli basin. But their chronology haven’t been constrained that well. The newly discovered tool was found about 100 kilometers north of those previous finds and (importantly) in an ancient river meander that cut through lavas that could be precisely aged.
"This discovery is critical for establishing the timing and route of early human dispersal into Europe," says Danielle Schreve from Royal Holloway University of London in a news release. "Our research suggests that the flake is the earliest securely-dated artifact from Turkey ever recorded and was dropped on the floodplain by an early hominin well over a million years ago." Schreve, together with an international team led by Darrel Maddy of Newcastle University, discovered the five-centimeter-long, hard-hammer quartzite flake while working with artifacts from the Early Pleistocene Gediz River sequence.
"I had been studying the sediments in the meander bend and my eye was drawn to a pinkish stone on the surface," Schreve recalls. "When I turned it over for a better look, the features of a humanly-struck artifact were immediately apparent." Maddy adds in a university statement: "We observed markings on the flake that clearly suggest it had been struck with force by a hard hammer or other stone tool, making it highly unlikely that it was shaped by natural processes."
Using argon radioisotopic dating -- as well as magnetic measurements from prehistoric lava flows that pre- and post-date the river meander -- the team was able to pinpoint human occupation in the valley between 1.24 million and 1.17 million years ago.
Images: Royal Holloway (top), Newcastle (middle)