According to the New York Times, a paper to be published in tomorrow’s Nature reports indications of meat-eating in the hominin Australopithecus afarensis. The paper, by S. P. McPherron et al., shows cut marks on animal bones that date back at least 3.4 million years and were found in a formation in Ethiopia where fossils of A. afarensis also occur. The authors claim that these cut marks could have been made only by hominins wielding stone tools:
Fig. 2 from the Nature paper, showing an ungulate rib with putative cut marks. Scale on SEM photos is 100 microns.
This finding, if true, pushes back the earliest hominin use of stone tools by a staggering 800,000 years. It’s sure to be controversial, especially since no stone tools have been found at the site. Indeed, scientists quoted in the Times story are casting strong doubt on the conclusions. Stay tuned.
S. P. McPherron et al. 2010. Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 466:857-860. doi:10.1038/nature09248