Stone Tools
Australian archaeologist Peter Hiscock holds the tiny fragment of what he believes to be part of the oldest axe in the world at a laboratory in Sydney, May 24, 2016. Reuters/Jason Reed

Archaeologists in a new study have stated that they have discovered numerous ancient stone tools near Azraq, Jordan, that still contain traces of animal residue. Some of the food items in this Paleolithic menu are similar to the modern eater and many are not so similar.

Humans living during Middle Pleistocene, 781,000 to 126,000 years ago, were capable of exploiting a wide range of prey and were also highly adaptable. Wild cattle, duck, horses and even rhinoceroses were in their menu list.

The research team led by April Nowell from the University of Victoria has for the first time ever discovered direct evidence of exact species that early humans and two-legged hominins were hunting and consuming during that time.

It has been known for decades that early humans and two-legged hominins made tools to butcher and kill animals for consumption, about 2.5 million years ago. However, the new study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, is the first to pinpoint the species that the humans were consuming.

The Azraq site artefacts contain the oldest evidence of protein residue ever found on stone tools.

“What makes this study significant is that our results are not only the oldest identified proteins in the world but they also provide direct evidence of exploitation of specific animals by those early hominins. Often as archaeologists we have bones and stone tools in association with each other, but what we have found with this protein residue is direct evidence ... of what these early humans were butchering,” Nowell told The Star.

Prior to this new study, the earliest evidence of animal residue on stone tools dated back to 11,500 years ago. Members from universities in the United States and Jordan were also involved in the study. The team excavated 10,000 stone tools at the site, which is now an arid desert.

Thousands of years ago, this was the site of a wetlands or an oasis “for a group of proto-humans who pre-dated Homo sapiens in Africa by thousands of years,” writes Gizmodo Australia. Out of the 10,000 tools discovered, 7,000 have been studied and that included hand axes, projectile points, flakes and scrapers.

Among the stone tools analysed, 17 of them still contain traces of protein residue. Residue of blood and other animal products has been found. The researchers used a matching process involving animal antibodies to confirm the origin of the residue.

The experts are however baffled by the fact as to how these early humans took down large animals such as rhinos or process its tough carcass. The technique developed by Nowell and her colleagues may be used to study other stone implements. Archaeologists may also use the technique to understand dietary habits of ancient hominids living even longer ago than these early humans.

“What this tells us about their lives and complex strategies for survival, such as the highly variable techniques for prey exploitation, as well as predator avoidance and protection of carcasses for food, significantly diverges from what we might expect from this extinct species,” Nowell said in a statement.