A mysterious group of early humans who made tools 55,000 years ahead of their time

Blombos Cave in South Africa may have harbored a group of early humans whose tool-making techniques outpaced those of other groups by many thousands of years. Today scientists announced the discovery of more sophisticated tools from this unusually advanced civilization.

Previously, researchers have found evidence that people who lived in Blombos Cave 75,000 years ago produced jewelry and shell beads that only became common among other groups of humans roughly 30,000 to 20,000 years ago. And now a research team led by Vincent Mourre has more evidence that the people of Blombos were the high-tech civilization of the early human world. Apparently these people invented a tool-making technique called "pressure flaking," a way of creating very sharp knives, about 55,000 years before humans elsewhere in the world did it.

According to a release about the research, published today in Science:

The tool-making technique, called pressure flaking, involves using an animal bone or some other object to exert pressure near the edge of a stone piece and carve out a relatively small flake. A tool-maker would typically first strike a stone with hammer-like tools to give the piece its initial shape; then they would use pressure-flaking to refine the blade's edges and shape its tip. The technique has been considered a fairly recent innovation, arising about 20,000 years ago.

It's unknown how these people came upon such a modern technique so many thousands of years before others did. It's possible, however, that their ideas about jewelry and tool-making gave the an advantage when they and their offspring migrated out of Africa 60,000 years ago. Their ideas may have spread to peoples in Asia and Europe, and groups with this technology may have come to dominate other parts of the world because of their superior abilities to hunt and feed themselves.

It's very possible that the people of Blombos Cave were the very first technical innovators, and that we have them to thank for all the machines and sophisticated tools we take for granted today.

Read the full scientific article via Science