The discovery of an ancient bone in South Africa has brought scientists one step closer to a more complete understanding of human evolution.
Britt Bousman, professor of anthropology at Texas State, participated in the excavation of a human tooth and stone tools dating back approximately one million years ago.
Bousman worked alongside James Brink, head of the Florisbad Quaternary Research Department at the National Museum in Bloemfontein, South Africa, who led the excavation. Bousman dated the excavation site in collaboration with Andy Herries of Australia’s La Trobe University using a technique called paleomagnetism. Bousman and his team recently published a journal on human evolution where they debuted these discoveries to the public.
Through paleomagnetic dating, the molar and hand tools were determined to be around one million years old. The age of the ancient discoveries makes them the oldest remains found in the north region of South Africa.
“It’s brilliant to have these new pieces of information,” Bousman said. “They help bridge the gaps of missing information about human history and evolution.”
Bousman said little is known about early humans living between 1.5 million and 200,000 years ago.
The site, discovered in the 1930s by archaeologist Van Hoepen, is located near Cornelia, South Africa. The excavation site where the tools and molar were found is known for being the source of numerous fossil finds.
The molar and stone tools were found in a bone bed probably created by ancient spotted hyenas. The bone bed supports the presence of early Homo erectus in southern Africa. The findings provide archaeologists with new insight into living patterns of early Homo erectus species, Bousman said.
The stone tools were found in 2003 and 2006, and the molar was found in 2010. The tools date back 250,000 to 1.6 million years ago.
The stone tools include large hand axes and cleavers used to hunt animals and break down objects. Brink said the tools are unusual because of their measurements, which signify the humans who used them had advanced hunting practices. Brink said they probably hunted in teams and lured prey through exhaustion before entrapping them.
Dating the molar and tools proved to be difficult. Electron Spin Resonance dating was originally used on the tooth, but Uranium levels were too high to successfully obtain results. Bousman then suggested paleomagnetic sampling, and the artifacts underwent research at the University of Texas’ Geomagnetic Laboratory.
“We see in cases that southern Africa acted as a source area for the appearance of new species,” Brink said. “The hominine fossil from Cornelia evidently represents (this).”
Brink, who led the excavation team, said he has done fieldwork at the Cornelia site for nearly 10 years.
Bousman has been doing archeological studies in South Africa since 1976. He first visited the Cornelia site in 2003 when dating methods for ancient discoveries were still being tried unsuccessfully.
He encourages students to take advantage of field excavation opportunities to become better oriented in archeology and histories of cultures. Bousman singles out the Shumla Field School near Comstock, Texas as having a range of programs regarding land and cultural heritage for students to take advantage of.
Carolyn Boyd, co-founder of the Shumla School and adjunct professor at Texas State, said she encourages students to participate in field schools like hers to learn more about the past.