PerspectiveArchaeology

An Earlier Acheulian Arrival in South Asia

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Science  25 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6024, pp. 1532-1533
DOI: 10.1126/science.1203806

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Summary

South Asia has rarely featured in recent discussions of paleoanthropology. On page 1596 of this issue, however, Pappu et al. (1) report a breakthrough, showing that an assemblage of Acheulian stone tools found in India can be dated to at least 1 million years ago (Ma) and are perhaps as ancient as ∼1.5 Ma— far older than previously shown. Acheulian tools are the product of a distinctive set of tool-making techniques that originated in Africa and then spread to Europe and Asia. The exact chronology of this spread, however, has been a long-standing puzzle. In India, researchers recently dated a few sites with Acheulian tools to more than 0.6 Ma (2, 3), but these dates are problematic (4). At the same time, most of the few dates available for Indian Acheulian sites were obtained years ago through a method that measures isotopes of thorium and uranium (230Th/234U) (5), and there are good reasons to suspect that it seriously underestimated their true ages. Pappu's team has performed a notable service in demonstrating unequivocally that the South Asian Acheulian extends back into the Early Pleistocene, more than 0.78 Ma.