A tan cliff stretching through a valley in Ethiopia contained a collection of black stones that were much more than just rocks, researchers found.
Archaeologists noticed a large deposit of obsidian stones while studying the Melka Kunture archaeological site, according to a study published Jan. 19 in the journal Nature. Looking closer, they noticed the obsidian pieces had been shaped into handaxes.
Researchers uncovered nearly 600 stone tools, almost exclusively made of obsidian, in one section of the cliff side. The artifacts were over 1.2 million years old, the study said. Based on the weathering patterns, the tools were likely found near where they were initially buried.
Analyzing the handaxes, archaeologists found a “remarkable” amount of “standardization,” the study said. Notably, the handaxes were made of obsidian, a fragile black volcanic rock that is difficult to carve.
“This was a focused activity” for the hominin crafters, researchers said. “The sheer amount of handaxes and debris that had accumulated … suggest that this was an often repeated activity and even a routine one.” The tools provided evidence of “the repetitive use of fully mastered skills” by hominins, the early family of modern humans.
Archaeologists concluded they uncovered a “stone-tool workshop” — the oldest ever known, according to the study.
Although tool-crafting dates back 3.3 million years, researchers believed “the use of dedicated ‘workshops’ for tool-crafting” came millennia-later, Vice reported. The finds at Melka Kunture have challenged that timeline.
At Melka Kunture, “hominins were doing much more than simply reacting to environmental changes;” the study authors wrote. “They were taking advantage of new opportunities, and developing new techniques and new skills.”
Excavations at the archaeological site are ongoing and led by a team of Italian and Spanish researchers, according to a Facebook page dedicated to the project.
The Melka Kunture site is about 30 miles southwest of Addis Ababa.