Nine marks identified as cut marks (mark numbers 1–4 and 7–11) and two identified as tooth marks (mark numbers 5 and 6) based on comparison with 898 known bone surface modifications. Scale = 1 cm. (Image by Jennifer Clark)
In a new study published today, June 26, in Scientific Reports, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner and her co-authors describe nine cut marks on a 1.45 million-year-old left shin bone from a relative of Homo sapiens found in northern Kenya. Analysis of 3D models of the fossil’s surface revealed that the cut marks were dead ringers for the damage inflicted by stone tools. This is the oldest instance of this behavior known with a high degree of confidence and specificity.
None of the stone-tool cut marks overlap with the two bite marks, which makes it hard to infer anything about the order of events that took place. For instance, a big cat may have scavenged the remains after hominins removed most of the meat from the leg bone. It is equally possible that a big cat killed an unlucky hominin and then was chased off or scurried away before opportunistic hominins took over the kill.