A Quick Tour of the World’s Oldest Archeological Sites

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Although our prehistoric ancestors were nomads with no fixed address, they certainly didn’t come and go from this planet without leaving a trace.

Archeologists are tasked with making sense of the bones fragments, stone chips and other items our forebears left behind. Now we have the resources and technology to understand these artifacts better and assign them a rightful place in human history, including many that date back half a million years or more.

Bouri, Ethiopia – Perhaps the oldest evidence of human activity on Earth belongs to the digs in Africa’s “Afar Triangle,” renowned for the identification of Paleolithic hominid remains, especially the Australopithecus afarensis. At the Bouri site, sets of animal bones from extinct relatives of cows and horses exhibit cut marks and percussion marks made by stone tools dating back 2.5 million years.

Lokalalei, Kenya – Located in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya, this site has revealed Oldowan artifacts, consisting of stone cores and flakes that are dated between 2.3 and 2.4 million years old. Besides animal bones of extinct bovids, horses, pigs and theropithecus, a molar was found there, thought to have come from a form ofHomo species, significantly different from the Bouri findings, which implied an Australopithicine tool maker.

Kashafrud Basin, Iran – This archeological site is known for its Lower Paleolithic artifacts, including collections of simple core and flake stone artifacts that are Oldowan-like and mainly made of quartz. They were crafted more than 800,000 years ago.

Zhoukoudian, China – In a cave system near Beijing, one of the first specimens ofHomo erectus was discovered in 1923. He was dubbed “Peking Man.” To date, the remains of some 45 individuals have been unearthed, along with animal remains plus stone flake and chopping tools. The most ancient of them are 750,000 years old.

Boxgrove, EnglandA wealth of Acheulean flint tools and the remains of butchered animals found in this West Sussex site east of Chichester date to around 500,000 years ago, indicating that the area was used by some of the earliest occupants of the British Isles.

Throughout most of the world, human activity has been more recent and cannot be traced back half a million years or more. But there are many noteworthy archeological sites elsewhere that have helped researchers better understand human development, such as the following:

Mungo Lake, Australia – In 1969, a partially cremated body was discovered at the site of this dry lake in New South Wales. Dubbed “Mungo Lady,” she lived some 40,000 years ago and is the earliest known human to have been cremated. Stone tools in the area indicate human presence in the area going back 50,000 years.

Monte Verde, Chile – This archeological site in southern Chile has been dated to 12,800 BCE, about 1,800 years before the time that the Bering Land Bridge between Alaska and Siberia became impassable.

Clovis, New Mexico, USA – The existence of distinct stone tools found here indicate the existence of a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture, roughly 13,500 to 13,000 years ago.

Gobekli Tepe, Turkey – Some believe that this ancient city in southeastern Turkey was built in the location of the original “Garden of Eden.” Its 12,000-year-old megalithic monuments predate Stonehenge by more than seven millennia.

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