Monday, April 18, 2011

Did Lucy's species butcher animals?

In August 2010 archaeologists announced that they had discovered evidence that pushed back the origin of butchery nearly 800,000 years. Studying bones of cow- and goat-size animals dated to around 3.4 million years ago from a site in Ethiopia called Dikika, Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues observed several distinctive marks. After conducting an extensive analysis of the marks, the team determined that they resulted from butchery with stone tools, although no implements were recovered at the site. Because the only human remains known from Dikika belong to Australopithecus afarensis—the species to which the famous Lucy fossil belongs—the researchers concluded A. afarensis was the butcher.

The discovery made a big splash, because scientists thought stone tool use and butchery originated with human ancestors more advanced than Lucy's kind. Furthermore, according to conventional wisdom, A. afarensis relied primarily on plant foods.

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