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Stone me

New research pushes back appearance of the Acheulean stone-tool industry in North Africa to 1.3 million years ago.

The Acheulian is the industry famous for its distinctive hand axes and cleaving tools, which emerged in tropical Africa spread widely though the Old World, from India to western Europe, perhaps even further. Now, Thomas Quarry I on the outskirts of Casablanca, Morocco (pictured), is adding to the picture.

Thomas Quarry I has long been famous for its fossil human remains and artifacts, found in 1969. In 1985, additional research in the lower levels of the quarry (Bed 2) yielded early Acheulian tools, but the site could not be dated precisely until now. A research team of Moroccan, French, and Italian researchers has studied the flakes and simple axes from Bed 2, then applied a new generation of dating methods to the site. Bed 2 has yielded a mean age of about 1.3 million years, based on highly sophisticated magnetostratigraphy and geochemistry. Their date comes from well-defined stratigraphic layers and is the most reliable date for the Acheulian in Northeast Africa.

As far as we can tell, the technological tradition revealed at Thomas Quarry lasted until about a million years ago, but this interpretation will change in the future when more Acheulian sites are discovered in the region.

The new date is some 600,000 years earlier than the previous early date, bringing the first appearance of Acheulian tools in North Africa closer to those from East and southern Africa, between 1.6 and 1.7 million years ago. This research is particularly important since relatively little is known about this complex period, or of the oldest-known hominin inhabitants of Morocco, who were ‘variants of Homo Erectus’, according to the team.

Image: D Lefevre

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