The Oldowan Industrial Complex is characterized by simple core forms, usually made on cobbles or chunks, the resultant debitage (flakes, broken flakes, and other fragments) struck from these cores, and the battered percussors (spheroids) used to produce the flaking blows.The materials of the tools were for the most part quartz, quartzite, basalt, or obsidian, and later flint and chert. Experiments have shown that the entire range of Oldowan forms can be produced by hard-hammer percussion, flaking against a stationary anvil, bipolar technique, and, occasionally, throwing one rock against another. Sharp flakes were obtained by various methods, some of which indicate that as early as 2.5 million years hominins had developed knapping skills and manual dexterities that allowed them to organize and predetermine the knapping and produce longer sequences of flaking. The typological categories commonly applied to Oldowan cores ( “heavy-duty tools,” ) can be viewed as a continuum of lithic reduction with the intent of producing sharp-edge cutting and chopping tools . In this view, many of the cores and so-called “core tools’ found in Oldowan assemblages may not have been deliberately shaped into a certain form in order to be used for some purpose; rather their shapes may have emerged as a byproduct of producing sharp cutting flake . Although usually rare, another element at many Oldowan sites is the category of retouched pieces, normally flakes or flake fragments that have been subsequently chipped along one or more edges. It has been argued that much of Oldowan technology can be viewed as a least-effort system for the production of sharp cutting and chopping edges by the hominin tool-makers, and that much of the observed variability between sites is a function of the quality, flaking properties, size, and shape of the raw materials that were available in a given site.
Although technically well developed, conceptually these industries more often represent simple two stage operational schemes consisting of raw material acquisition followed by detachment of the flakes. If modern excavation methods are used in the evaluation of Olduvan sites with undisturbed material, longer, more complex sequences have been recorded.
Secondary flake knapping was recorded at the Early Pleistocene site of Bizat Ruhama, Israel, dated to 1.6-1.2 Ma on the basis of bio chronological and paleo magnetic considerations, indicating that Oldowan hominins employed more complex operational schemes than previously suggested. Interestingly the sequences of knapping were very similar to those at the much later Middle Pleistocene site of Isernia La Pineta in Italy, where small flakes and were produced during bipolar napping of tabular flint nodules and flakes. Some Cores and flakes from Erq-el-Ahmar, Israel may be typologically “Oldowan” but are essentially undated. The artifact shown in this post is a surface find from a larger Acheulian scatter and may be essentially also of Acheulian origin. Chopping tools in Israel have been detected until the Yabroudian and even in some Mousterian sites.
The term Oldowan has also been used for early sites, such as at Ubeidiya, dated to 1, 4 million years ago in Israel at the northern edge of the rift valley. The multilayered site consists of concentrations of stone artifacts such as handaxes, Trihedrals and picks, Choppers and Chopping tools (cores), and flake-tools. Actually Ubeidiya is classified as Acheulian.
The oldest traces of human settlements in a nearby area to Israel are present in the bottom layers of Hummal in Syria showing an Oldowan assemblage of flakes and pebble-tools / cores in association with numerous animal remains, traces of very old human migrations through the Syrian desert steppe. Although absolute dates are missing for the moment, this ensemble is certainly of an age > 1mya.
Further to the North, at Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia Oldowan tools were associated with human remains at about 1, 8 million years ago at the crossroads from the “Levantine corridor” to Asia and Europe. These remains are as old as the oldest Homo erectus (“Homo rudofensis”) fossils in Africa at Koobi Fora or West Turkana. To date, five hominid fossils, thousands of extinct animal bones and bone fragments and over 1,000 stone tools have been found, buried in about 4, 5 meters of alluvium. The stratigraphy of the site indicates that the hominid and vertebrate remains, and the stone tools, were in a secondary association. As always in paleoanthropology the debates between “lumpers” and “splitters” are ongoing.
The proponents of the discussion suggest that these human remains belong either to Homo habilis or to the Homo erectus clade. Others discuss the differences between the Dmanisi sculls as a high intra-species variation of Homo erectus. Some researchers claim that the variation of the sculls implicates that the earliest Homo species – Homo habilis, Homo rudofensis and so forth – actually belonged to the same species. Others still insist that these specimens should be assigned to a separate species: “Homo Georgicus”. Lacking genetic data from such early hominids, I suggest that the discussion will not be settled during the next decade.