The systematic archaeological and geological survey and excavations at Gona between 1992-1994 led to the discovery of well-flaked stone artefacts which are currently the oldest known from anywhere in the world. More than 3000 surface and excavated artefacts were recovered at 15 localities documented east and west of the Kada Gona river. Based on radioisotopic dating (40Ar/39Ar) and magnetostratigraphy, the artefacts are dated between 2·6-2·5 million years ago (Ma). EG10 and EG12 from East Gona are the most informative with the highest density, providing the best opportunity for characterizing the oldest assemblages and for understanding the stone working capability of the earliest tool makers. Slightly younger artefact occurrences dated to 2·4-2·3 Ma are known from Hadar and Omo in Ethiopia, and from Lokalalei in Kenya. Cut-marked bones dated to 2·5 Ma from Bouri in Ethiopia are now providing important clues on the function of these artefacts. In addition, Australopithecus garhi known from contemporary deposits at Bouri may be the best candidate responsible for the oldest artefacts. Surprisingly, the makers of the Gona artefacts had a sophisticated understanding of stone fracture mechanics and control similar to what is observed for Oldowan assemblages dated between 2·0-1·5 Ma. This observation was corroborated by the recent archaeological discoveries made at Lokalalei. Because of the similarities seen in the techniques of artefact manufacture during the Late Pliocene-Early Pleistocene, it is argued here that the stone assemblages dated between 2·6-1·5 Ma group into the Oldowan Industry. The similarity and simplicity of the artefacts from this time interval suggests a technological stasis in the Oldowan. © 2000 Academic Press.
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