Room 3
Human Prehistory: An Exhibition


Map of Africa

Africa is the cradle of human race. Anthropologists have unearthed the oldest human skeletons in East Africa in places such as Hadar, Olduvai, Laetoli. One of the best preserved human remnants is a female skeleton found at Hadar in Ethiopia. Anthropologists assembled about 40% of the young girl that was given the nick name "Lucy". Lucy was dated between 3.6 and 3 million years ago and belongs to the Australopethicus category.

Hadar's paleontological and anthropological significance was discovered in 1968 by M. Taieb, a French geologist. Taieb organized a geological and paleontological survey of the area in 1971, in which he was joined by D.C. Johanson, Y. Coppens, and J. Kalb. These workers formed the International Afar Research Expedition (INRE). They chose Hadar from the many other available sites to begin intensive investigation mainly because of its excellent preservation of faunal remains.

During the initial field season in 1973 the first early hominid fossils were recovered from Hadar, a knee joint and a partial temporal. Nearly 6,000 fossils of mammals, a total of 87 species, were recovered in 1973 and in subsequent seasons. In the fall of 1974 a larger team returned to continue the search and soon made a discovery of hominid teeth.

At the end of November D.C. Johanson discovered at locality 288 the partial skeleton of a tiny female hominid, which was nicknamed "Lucy." The 1975 field season brought even more hominid remains, this time at Locality 333. This locality has been interpreted as evidence for the catastrophic death of a group of hominids. The 333 site yielded, by the close of excavations during the 1976-1977 field season, hundreds of hominid fossil fragments derived from at least 13 individuals representing all ages. All of the Hadar fossils were returned after study to the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, where they are permanently housed.

The Hadar Formation consists of at least 280 m. of sediment. Over 100 stratigraphic sections have been studied thus far, and it has been possible to subdivide the sedimentary sequence into four stratigraphic members. Radiometric dating has dated the top of the Hadar units at ca. 2.9 million years (m.y.) ago. Dating for the lower units has been more controversial, with estimates 3.6 and 3.3 m.y. ago. Thus it can be stated confidently that the "Lucy" specimen is ca. 3 m.y. old, while some of the other, stratigraphically lower Hadar hominids are at least 3.3 and possibly as much as 3.6 m.y. old. [Source: Ian Tattersall, et al. eds, Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory (Chicago: St James Press, 1988), pp. 239-241]

The first humans used sharp stones as tools. "The emergence of a flaked-stone technology during the course of hominid evolution marks a radical behavioral departure from the rest of the animal world and constitutes the first definitive evidence in the prehistoric record of a simple cultural tradition, or one based upon learning. Although other animals Archaeological evidence shows a geometric increase in the sophistication and complexity of hominid stone technology over time since its earliest beginnings 3-2 m.y. ago. Stone is the principal material found in nature that is both very hard and able to produce superb working edges when fractured A wide range of tasks can be performed such as meat cutting and bone breaking". [quoted from Tattersall et al.eds, op.cit., p. 542].

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D. I. Loizos, 1996-2003