Earliest signs of human life found in Saharan gold mine include massive, almond-shaped cleavers resembling fists

The artefacts belonging to the African variety of Homo erectus, the ancestor of humans (Homo sapiens), were found about 70 km east of the present-day city of Atbara. Mirosław Masojć

Some of the earliest signs of human life dating back 1 million years have been discovered in an old gold mine in the Eastern Sahara.

Archaeologists from the University of Wrocław came across a trove of tools belonging to the African variety of Homo erectus, the ancestor of humans (Homo sapiens), about 70 km east of the present-day city of Atbara.

Archaeologists came across hundreds of artefacts including massive, almond-shaped  cleavers resembling fists, weighing several kilograms, and with chipped edges on both sides forming a pointed tip at the junction.Mirosław Masojć

Included among the hundreds of artefacts were massive, almond-shaped  cleavers resembling fists, weighing several kilograms, and with chipped edges on both sides forming a pointed tip at the junction.

By examining layers of soil and sand above the objects using a method known as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), the archaeologists were able to determine the age of the tools.

By examining layers of soil and sand above the objects using a method known as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), the archaeologists were able to determine the age of the tools. Mirosław Masojć

Research project leader Professor Mirosław Masojć from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Wrocław said: “It turned out that they were about 390,000 years old. 

“This means that the layers below are certainly older. Based on the workmanship, I believe that the tools may be over 700,000 years old, perhaps even a million years old, like their counterparts discovered further in the south of Africa.”

Team leader Professor Mirosław Masojć said that the objects are the oldest known human creations with such a well-confirmed chronology from Egypt and Sudan.Mirosław Masojć

Previously, Professor Masojć's team had discovered hand axes and other tools, but never ones that were technologically so close to those from equatorial Africa, or that old.

It is now thought that in the place where the artefacts were discovered, there used to be a workshop where tools were made, because both finished 'products' as well as flakes formed during their production have been preserved.

Masojć added that these are the oldest known human creations with such a well-confirmed chronology from Egypt and Sudan. 

Mirosław Masojć

It is thought that there could be even older artefacts in the deeper parts of the mines. Mirosław Masojć

He said: “Ancient tools are found in deserts, but never before have they come from layers that would allow us to safely determine their age.”

So far, researchers have found nearly 200 sites where Palaeolithic stone products have been preserved.

Masojć said it cannot be ruled out that there are even older artefacts in the deeper parts of the mines.