Archaeologists have found a Paleolithic stone flake in the ancient deposits of the Gediz River, revealing that human ancestors passed through the gateway from Asia to Europe much earlier than previously thought.
Although Paleolithic stone tools have been found in western Turkey before, few have been associated with geological deposits of known age. As a result, the timing of early humans’ progress across the Anatolian peninsula is poorly understood.
The newfound stone tool is composed mainly of quartz and is about 5 cm long.
It shows evidence of being hammered by a hard tool and, according to the scientists, is at least 1.2 million years old.
“The flake was an incredibly exciting find. I had been studying the sediments in the meander bend and my eye was drawn to a pinkish stone on the surface. When I turned it over for a better look, the features of a humanly-struck artifact were immediately apparent,” said Prof Danielle Schreve of Royal Holloway University of London, UK, who is a co-author of the paper published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.
“This discovery is critical for establishing the timing and route of early human dispersal into Europe.”
“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.”
Prof Darrel Maddy of Newcastle University, who is the lead author on the study, added: “although the find of an individual struck flake may not in itself be unusual, the observation is significant because we can assign a precise time range to the artifact and thus the presence of hominins.”
“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.”
“This quartzitic flake was then dropped on the floodplain of an active river meander. That meander cut through lavas with age estimates of 1.24 million years and was finally abandoned as a response to damming of the river downstream by a younger lava flow dated to 1.17 million years.
“This makes it the earliest securely-dated artifact from Turkey yet reported.”
The oldest hominin fossils in western Anatolia, attributed to Homo erectus, were recovered in 2007 in the deposits of travertine at Kocabaş in the Denizli basin – about 100 km south of where the flake was discovered – but their dating were uncertain.
“This study highlights the need for geologists and archaeologists to work more closely together,” Prof Maddy said.
“By doing so we should be able to track the movements of early humans with ever increasing detail, affording us great opportunities to understand the dispersal of our ancestors and the origins of the first Europeans.”