Anthropologists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and an
international team of collaborators have discovered that early humans in East Africa had–by about 320,000 years ago–begun trading with distant groups, using color pigments and manufacturing more sophisticated tools than those of the Early Stone Age. These newly
discovered activities approximately date to the oldest known fossil record of Homo sapiens and occur tens of thousands of years earlier than previous evidence has shown in eastern Africa. These behaviours, which are characteristic of humans who lived during the Middle Stone Age, replaced technologies and ways of life that had been in place for hundreds of thousands of years. Evidence for these milestones in humans’ evolutionary past comes from the Olorgesailie Basin in southern Kenya, which holds an archeological record of
early human life spanning more than a million years. The new discoveries, reported in three studies published March 15 in the journal Science, indicate that these behaviors emerged during a period of tremendous environmental variability in the region.