World’s first butchers go back 3.4 million years

By Tom Johnston on 8/13/2010

The world’s first butchers go back 3.4 million years in history, which makes them 800,000 years older than previously thought, scientists said in a study published in Nature.

The scientists found two mammal bones in Ethiopia that were slashed, suggesting that human ancestors were using sharp-edged tools to harvest meat. Until this discovery, the earliest evidence of butchering with stone tools was dated to some 2.5 million years ago, according to the publication’s affiliated news site, Nature News.

The report quoted Shannon McPherron, an archaeologist who co-authored the study, as saying the discovery indicates human ancestors were not only using tools back then but also leaving the safety of forests to the plains to get meat. He suggests they weren’t hunting but scavenging predator kills of large animals, which he called a significant event in human development.

Stone tools allowed an easier means of harvesting flesh and breaking bones, making animal carcasses a more sought-after food source, the researchers said.

“This type of [behavior] sent us down a path that later would lead to two of the defining features of our species: “carnivory” – or meat eating – “and tool and manufacture use,” McPherron is quoted as saying.