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Leicester 2002 Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Human ancestors 'dodgy at DIY'
Tools, PA
It appears the tools were discarded after use

Our ancestors may have been good at making stone tools but they seem to have been hopeless at putting together a tool kit.

Excavations at an archaeological site in India suggest early humans living there about a million years ago ran a primitive tool factory.

The implements were probably used by Homo erectus to process meat, wood and plants.

It appears, however, that their labours stopped short of actually storing the tools for future use.

Most were found scattered within a kilometre or two of the quarry, suggesting they were simply thrown away after the task was completed.

Archaeologists think early humans at this stage in evolution did not have the brain power to plan ahead.

With brains about half the size of modern humans, they probably lacked the behaviour and thought patterns needed to make better use of technology.

Hybrid behaviour

It is a big enigma, said Dr Michael Petraglia of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

"It's truly a hybrid between something like a chimp, and us," he told BBC News Online. "It's so unfamiliar, there's no modern animal close to it."

The research gives an insight into the evolution of the modern mind. It suggests human behaviour did not take shape slowly and gradually over the passage of time, as some have suggested.

Rather, there were big leaps in human behaviour relatively recently as brains approached the sort of size seen in anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals.

Unique site

This is the first quarry uncovered in India from the Acheulean period. It is in central India in the state of Karnataka.

Stone tools produced during this era are found over a wide geographical area, including India and Africa.

The period also spans a long time - between 250 thousand and 1.7 million years ago.

Full details of the discovery are being prepared for publication, Dr Petraglia told the British Association's festival of science in Leicester.

BA science festival at Leicester University.

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